That was hella fun last night.
There are plenty of people on the socials this morning talking about how we looked to drop a bit in the second half, that it was a bit nervy and I don’t know why, but I just had complete confidence that we were going to win last night and win comfortably. And I’m saying this not to profess my clairvoyance or anything, just that I knew that we would play well and get a decent result, not just a win.
Because in European football you can win and still have a bad result. A 5-4 victory gives the opposition the away goals to know they pretty much need to just to score. But when you don’t concede at home it almost feels like an extra ‘half a goal’, if that makes sense?
But yeah, I fancied us yesterday, wrote about it in the morning before the game, then watched an Arsenal team who won the 50/50s in the first half, kept Napoli at arms length in the opening exchanges, but crucially got two goals in the first half that ultimately puts us in a good position for the second leg.
Unai’s decision to go ‘all the best players’ on us worked. He picked Ramsey, Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette and went with a back three, charging Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac with getting forward and providing width, and it felt like we were in control. Napoli are a good team. You could see their ability and technical skill with the way they popped the ball around, but in the final third they just didn’t manage to penetrate behind what was a superb performance from Koscielny, Sokratis and Monreal to a lesser extent. They got in behind our wing backs when they had pushed higher up the pitch, but the covering centre half did his job each time and I don’t remember too many chances in that first half.
In attack we were good too. The first goal was a peach from Ramsey – who has hit form at the perfect time it feels – and let’s also give some kudos to Maitland-Niles for the assist. It was a great build up to the move, a fantastic finish and on the balance of play, well deserved from an Arsenal team who showed just how chalk and cheese they are between Sunday’s woeful performance and last night’s energetic display.
Perhaps part of it was the returning of players like Torreira and Ramsey to the starting XI and it’s fair to say both were a massive upgrade on Elneny and Guendouzi from the weekend. More of the same in that midfield away to Watford on Monday night please.
And more of the same when we play Napoli in the return leg. There were plenty of chewed fingernails from people around me in Block 5 yesterday but I’ll be 100% honest with you, in that second half, I didn’t feel too nervous. We were really good I thought. I mean we missed some chances – like Ramsey blazing over from about eight yards – but to me it felt like an Arsenal team looking to close out a game. It felt like this was a tactic of Emery’s and in the second half it felt like we were playing within ourselves at times, but doing it on purpose, to remain compact and not concede. And if you think about the saves Cech had to make, they weren’t as numerous as the Napoli ‘keeper in the second half, despite their dominance of the ball.
It was a composed Arsenal who were managing the football match yesterday I thought. And that fills me with a bit of hope for the return leg too. Although I will say that this confidence may just be the basking in the glow of a post-match victory blog. Come the return leg morning before I suspect my feelings might have migrated somewhat.
But for now I’ll just contend myself with the happiness that a good 2-0 win brings. It could have been better, could have been a lot worse, but we’re in a good place and for that I’m thankful. Thankful that Emery got it right again last night. He’s made his mistakes this season but by and large when I look at last season we’ve improved. He knew that Napoli might try to frustrate last night and so went all out with his attacking options. That meant that it gave their back line and midfield more to think about and whilst I didn’t think Özil was the stand out player yesterday, he kept popping up in spaces which meant that they were constantly looking over their shoulders.
The return leg has a totally different narrative than last night and they will come at us hard and fast but the first 15 will be crucial. We have a chance. A big chance.
Catch you all tomorrow.