A fantastic Arsenal performance ensures a semifinal berth in the Europa League after Alexandre Lacazette scored a decisive free-kick to boot Napoli out.
Arsenal’s game plan was simple, to protect their two-goal advantage and attack on the counter. They did that with fantastic consistency, and as a bonus secured back to back away clean sheets. The win over Napoli away from home also ended a bad run of results in the Europa League where Arsenal had lost their last two games on the road.
Arsenal had expected Napoli to attack from the offset and the Italians did that, although they still showed immense inconsistency in finishing off their chances. Not to say Arsenal were prolific themselves, but when the opportunity arrived, they took it with both hands. ALexandre Lacazette converted a free-kick from 30 yards out, leaving Napoli’s goalkeeper stunned and taking his team into the next round.
Unai Emery had made as many as five changes to the side that won against Watford, and all those changes made a huge difference in this tie. The defence, in particular, deserves special mention here for their terrific showing at the back, while each player from Arsenal contributed their share to make sure their team did not concede and kept their advantage intact.
The only disappointment was the injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey, who left the field in the first half, right before the freekick, holding his hamstring. If it’s a severe injury and considering the time of the season we are in, it might just have been the last time Arsenal fans might have seen the Welshman in action in Arsenal colours.
Let’s take a look at how Arsenal players rated in their narrow, but a convincing win over Napoli.
Petr Cech – 7
Made a crucial contribution with two great saves. Cech looked like in control of his area at all times, and owing to Napoli’s weak attempts on his goal, he did not have many problems to deal with on the night. However, those two shots he saved, made a huge difference, considering the first of those was when the scoreline was 0-0.
Sokratis – 7
Sokratis is improving with each game played, his influence on the Arsenal backline is coming in the spotlight. Against Napoli, he was a prominent figure, and his communication with Maitland-Niles on the right side was crucial in protecting his goal.
Laurent Koscielny – 8.5
If one takes a look at Koscielny’s performances in the last few games he’s played, they’ll know he’s in the form of his life right now. The Frenchman was everywhere, and the timing and decision-making of his positioning was inch-perfect. Moreover, he certainly is showing no signs of his advancing age and from the looks of it seems he might have a few more years at the top.
Nacho Monreal – 7
Monreal too has proven his worth as part of the back line, and Arsenal seem to be more secure with him than Mustafi there. Monreal, like Koscielny, made an outstanding contribution, although there was a moment where he came close to scoring an own goal. Barring a few errors and the times when Napoli attackers went past him, he was solid for most parts and helped keep a clean sheet.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – 8
Another brilliant performance from Maitland-Niles, who seems to be blossoming in that right wing-back position. Quite often the versatile star gets criticised for being bad at defending, although against Napoli he was rock solid to deny their attackers any opportunity. On the other end, he was making his presence felt with some marauding runs into Napoli’s area.
Sead Kolasinac – 7
There wasn’t much change to Kolasinac’s game, but he did prove to be a balanced outlet on the left side. Despite recent criticisms over his defensive awareness, he was on hand to keep tabs on Napoli attackers and many times also helped out Monreal. Attacking wise, he was an outlet as ever, although his deliveries into the box failed him more often than he might have expected in the evening.
Granit Xhaka – 7
One of his more controlled performances, where he performed at his best to provide Arsenal with more options. His passing was exquisite at best and also guarded the defence with plenty of running and a brilliant showing of energy.
Lucas Torreira – 7
Not a flashy game by his standards, although he was quite useful at whatever he did. There was the tale of two halves when Torreira struggled in the first period when the whole team was under more pressure but improved in the second half.
Aaron Ramsey – 6
Up until he pulled up with a hamstring injury Ramsey was active and did everything that was asked of him. Hopefully, for Arsenal, his injury is not the season-ending one everyone’s talking about.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 6.5
A decent game by his standards. Did not get on the scoresheet but did well to pressurize the opposition defence along with Lacazette. Also missed one outstanding opportunity.
Alexandre Lacazette – 8
The man of the match against Napoli, just because of the goal he scored. Showed plenty of energy throughout his time on the pitch, but when the opportunity arose for a goal, he sent his 30 yeard free-kick beyond the goalkeeper, giving Arsenal an edge in the tie with the away goal, something Napoli never recovered from.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 6
Sent on in the first half to replace Ramsey, and did okay, if not spectacular. He needs to step up in Ramsey’s absence, especially considering Emery will rotate his side for the upcoming games.
Alex Iwobi – 6
Added the energy Emery wanted him to show on the pitch and did fine to put more pressure on the opposition defence.
Mohamed Elneny – 6
Sent on the pitch to add more strength to midfield and protect the lead. Added some tackles and energy on the pitch.