Arsenal took one major step towards qualification for the UEFA Europa League semifinals with one of its best performances of the season on Thursday evening.
Unai Emery’s tactical gamble paid off as Arsenal took an early lead and never let off, defeating Serie A power Napoli, 2-0 at Emirates Stadium. Midfield duo Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira produced the goals, with Ramsey scoring early and Torreira having a shot re-directed in.
Emery chose to start the trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette together up top, going for gold against a Napoli side know for its defending and quick counter attacks. It could have left Arsenal vulnerable defensively but the attention paid to the front-three opened up space for Arsenal’s players making late runs into the box.
That was how Ramsey scored in the 13th minute. Ozil found Lacazette in space down the wing. On attacking the box, Lacazette passed to Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the box, who spun around and found an open Ramsey. Ramsey collected the pass and chipped past Alex Meret to put Arsenal ahead.
Torreira, the little bulldog in central midfield, then forced a turnover in the 25th minute, chased it down and bore down on goal. Torreira then switched the ball to his weaker left foot and fired a strike on goal. To Kalidou Koulibaly’s dismay, the ball deflected off his leg and in for another goal to Arsenal.
Napoli came out in the second half with more energy and intensity, but they couldn’t find the way past Arsenal’s suddenly resolute defense, led by Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis. Ramsey nearly had another chance to score, with a cracking strike tipped over the bar by Meret.
At the end, Arsenal held on to secure a massive clean sheet ahead of next Thursday’s return leg in Napoli.