No man knows more about the Europa league and what it takes to gain success than Unai Emery. Since he was embraced by the competition, he has won 26 League knockout stages, more than anyone else and in the second leg against Napoli, he must have expected a relentless onslaught from Arsenal’s hosts.
So, he decided the best form of defence was attack and his selection suggested that Emery had no intention of sitting back for 90 minutes with his pulse beating in his ears, rubbing his sweaty palms on his trousers and preying to the gods.
He wanted a decisive away goal that would allow Arsenal to assume control and strangle the game to death.
It came in the 36th minute when Alexandre Lacazette was upended by Zielinski. He dusted himself off and with the free kick awarded, there was no question that he was taking it.
Lacazette has scored from 35 yards out Napoli need 4 goals now to beat Arsenal in Europa League action‼️ pic.twitter.com/nOwTKA002D
— Sports Daily United (@sdumultimedia) April 18, 2019
The Frenchman’s curling right foot shot beat everyone and plunged itself into the middle of the right corner with the keepers feet drilled deep into the turf.
Perhaps the signal’s from Meret’s Brain was still trying to reach his extremities, either that or he’d been dazzled by Arsenal’s red shorts, red socks and traditional red and white top, which I also found extremely compelling. I was however, still capable of movement and reached for my cup of tea in a modest form of celebration.
That goal meant that Napoli had to score four goals but from what we’d seen up until the goal, that would be unlikely unless there was an added 60 minutes of injury time and even then it may have been beyond them.
The big success here was Arsenal’s ability to defend in numbers, with Torreira and Xhaka unconcerned about adding to the attack, this provided cover for the back three of Sokratis, Koscileny and Monreal.
Monreal’s left back days are far behind him like his legs. Koscileny has become rejuvenated in the autumn of his Arsenal career and Sokratis is a juggernaut that wants the ball at any cost.
The burly, hairy Greek, is like a dog craving a tennis ball, firmly planted in its owners hand, which has it leaping into the air at the prospect of its release with exaggerated excitement.
There were times when Napoli got through the lines but they weren’t allowed to relax on the ball and they snatched and fluffed any decent opportunities. At half time they had only registered one shot on target, such was the defensive blockade.
Arsenal could have added to the score from Lacazette and Aubameyang. Both will have to make those count in the semi final if Emery’s men are going to go all the way.
The only sour part of this victory vs Napoli was the loss of Aaron Ramsey, who is thought to have suffered a hamstring injury in the 34th minute.
A grade 1 tear means between few days and up to a week to recover.
A grade 2/3 could take weeks or months, time Ramsey doesn’t have.
If Arsenal fans don’t see him again, he has made a fantastic contribution to the club in his last season and should leave with their thanks ringing in his ears.
Napoli 0-1 (0-3) Arsenal HT:
Pass accuracy: 83%-65%
Chances created: 8-2
Alexandre Lacazette's free kicks hand visitors a precious away goal to put tie beyond doubt. pic.twitter.com/PCN1vUnfMO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 18, 2019
The scale of this 3-0 win over two legs should not be overlooked but should also remain in context. Napoli are likely to finish second in Serie A and are thought to be a good attacking side. There was little evidence of that here for Napoli
The gunners kept two clean sheets in a row in this competition and their trip to Italy will go some way to lifting the travel sickness they have experienced this season.
Arsenal now face Valencia who are currently 6th in La Liga and comparisons between the sides show that they are less vulnerable in defence, having conceded 27 goals compared to the gunners 40.
When it comes to attack, Arsenal are head and shoulders above their fellow semi finalists with 66 goals as opposed to 36.
The head to head is less impressive with Arsenal winning one, drawing one and losing three but that series of stretches back to 1980, with the last meeting in 2003.
There are perhaps a few out there that remember the 1980 European Cup Winners final at the Heysel Stadium where Valencia won the match 5–4 on penalties.
Let’s hope that we get another impressive performance as this one against Valencia and most likely Chelsea in the final as well.