Dominance then control see Arsenal cruise past Napoli, 2-0

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Was it Arsenal’s best performance of the year? Or Napoli’s worse? In order to get a game this lopsided, it’d almost have to be both, with the Premier League leaders handing the Partenopei a decisive first loss to their season, 2-0 this evening at the Emirates.

The win leaves Arsenal alone on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group F, with Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, winners over Marseille at the Westfalenstadion, trailing by three points.

The Gunners controlled the game from its early moments but waited until the eighth minute to launch their first major attack, a long ball to striker Olivier Giroud starting a Arsenal transition that tore Napoli open for the game’s first goall. After chesting down 15 yards inside his opponent’s half, Giroud played wide and behind the defense to a streaking Aaron Ramsey, whose foray toward goal ended when he cut a pass back toward the middle of the penalty area. There, a trailing Mesut Özil’s exquisite left-footed finish curled into the left side of goal, eluding a sprawling Pepe Reina to open the scoring.

Seven minutes later, Napoli was even more complicit in their demise, with a poor clearance intercepted at the edge of their defensive third ahead leading to the match-sealing goal. On a ball sent back in to Giroud, the French striker found Özil before moving toward the front of goal. The return ball found the Arsenal number nine for a finish high into Reina’s net, giving Arsenal an early two-goal lead.

Arsenal maintained control throughout the first half, waiting for a Napoli challenge that didn’t arrive. Apparently set to play conservatively on the road, Rafa Benítez’s team never came out of their shell, and while halftime seemed the logical point for the Italians to start chasing their two-goal deficit, the plan remained the same. Napoli would finish the match with only one shot on goal, holding only 37 percent of the match’s possession.

source: Reuters
Mesut Özil’s goal, assist on Tuesday at the Emirates helped run Arsenal’s all-competition record to 9-1-0 this season. The team now leads both the Premier League and their Champions League group. (Photo: AP Photo.)

In their first loss of the year, Napoli also played their worst game of the year; even worse than last week’s draw at last place Sassuolo. That 1-1 result, an initial blemish that seemed so disappointing at the time, will be put in perspective by a Tuesday effort that seemed not only poor but unwilling. Nobody could have foreseen such a meek performance.

Arsenal, however, took advantage of their visitors early. Rather than letting a lackadaisical opponent settle into the match, a new, more confident Arsenal made Napoli pay within 15 minutes, with the three stars that have fueled this season’s rise leading todays charge. Aaron Ramsey, the team’s best player throughout the season, was instrumental on the opening goal, with Olivier Giroud rewarded for his part by being set up for the second. And Mesut Özil, whose acquisition has become symbolic of this Gunner resurgence, played a part in both goals, a pristine finish to open the scoring complemented by his assist on goal number two.

Arsène Wenger’s team went up against a poor opponent, but it was their job to make them look bad,. By that standard, today’s win was a resounding success. The 2-0 ultimately flattered a Napoli team who, packing into their end for much of the game, could have easily been on the wrong end of a truly embarrassing result.

Perhaps that mercy was another product of Arsenal’s confidence. Regardless, the Gunners sit first in Group F, their perfect start continuing on a surprisingly easy night at the Emirates.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions.

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.