Arsenal 2 Napoli 0: Mesut Özil sets the tone as Arsene Wenger’s side turn on the style against Napoli


Mesut Özil scored the opening goal before setting up Olivier Giroud in Arsenal's 2-0 defeat of Napoli (GETTY IMAGES)
Mesut Özil scored the opening goal before setting up Olivier Giroud in Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Napoli (GETTY IMAGES)

Read a full match report of the Champions League game between Arsenal and Napoli at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday Oct 1, 2013.
When Arsenal play with the precision, pace and elegance that spiced some of their mesmerising first-half movement here the feeling grows stronger and stronger that the long, soul-searching, inquisition-scarred wait for a trophy might yet end this season. If it does, the player who should touch the trophy first should be Mesut Özil, who impressed again in a 2-0 victory.

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The German has strengthened Arsenal psychologically and as an attacking, trophy-threatening force. He has brought belief, assists and now his first goal for the club, a strike that celebrated his sumptuous technique. Özil was almost unplayable at times, gliding hither and thither, twisting away from opponents, the ball merrily snuggling his left foot, leaving Napoli bewildered and bewitched.

He completed 87 per cent of his passes, an impressive statistic given that he operated in the most crowded area of the pitch. He has brought a focus and a finesse to Arsenal’s efforts in the final third. A Euro for the thoughts of Real Madrid. What were they thinking? Real’s loss is Arsenal’s gain and Napoli’s pain.

Napoli’s film-producer owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, could have been forgiven for thinking this was not in the script after his team’s fine start to the season under Rafael Benítez. De Laurentiis’ famous family have been associated with some horror films down the years — Aurelio’s late uncle Dino produced Halloween II and III – but few to rival the opening sequence here.

It was not simply Özil spreading fear in Italian hearts, particularly in that astonishing first 15 minutes. Aaron Ramsey sprinted from box to box, winning the ball and knitting together quick-fire passing moves. One of his turns away from Gokhan Inler almost warranted a collective “ole”. The Welshman was in buoyant form before Özil’s arrival but he has moved up another level through close proximity to the inspirational German in training and in matches.

Olivier Giroud looks leaner, sharper this season and he has also benefited from Özil’s service as seen with Arsenal’s second goal. The tall French centre-forward, looking increasingly a bargain £10 million from Montpellier last year, imposed himself physically on Napoli and also with some deft touches.

Another Frenchman has contributed immeasurably. Mathieu Flamini has given the midfield a steel absent since the days of Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva. Flamini, a free agent from AC Milan, will probably not get the credit his selfless ball-winning deserves because all the talk will be about Özil, Ramsey and Giroud.

This was a vivid performance needing setting in a historical context.

Arsenal’s first-half display was arguably their most accomplished against leading European opposition at the Emirates since the last 15 minutes against Barcelona in 2011 when Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin secured a narrow win.

Some of the football played by Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas in the last 20 minutes against Barcelona in 2010 almost rivalled the brilliance of Özil, Ramsey and Giroud here.

Yet this felt different. This felt a statement of confident intent from the first whistle, not a scrambled late reaction as against Barcelona. Arsenal were full of belief from the start, tearing into Napoli, making a nonsense of the draw-day declarations of a group of death.

They have already prevailed at Marseille and now face home-and-away tests against Borussia Dortmund. Robert Lewandowski could provide a reality check but Arsenal already have six points and a new swagger.

Due allowance must be made for the slight niggle that kept Gonzalo Higuaín a frustrated spectator but Napoli still boasted such talent as Marek Hamsik, Inler, Lorenzo Insigne and Pepe Reina in their ranks.

The Italians had still started the season powerfully in Serie A and defeated Dortmund in the Champions League, playing so well that their coach, Rafa Benítez, remarked that “we probably need to control the euphoria’’. This chastening result will have done that yet few would have coped with Arsenal at their full-throttle best in the first half in particular.

It was a minor miracle that the visitors kept the score down to only 2-0 by half-time when Arsenal fans stood to applaud their rampant team from the field.

The first goal arrived after only eight minutes, the move began by Per Mertesacker who worked the ball right to Bacary Sagna. The full-back clipped the ball down the line towards Giroud, who controlled the ball on his chest and then flicked it on for the overlapping Ramsey. Napoli’s left-back, Camilo Zuniga, was missing, allowing Ramsey to progress unchecked.

The Welshman took a quick look up to assess his options before sliding the ball to Özil on the edge of the area. The German’s left foot did the rest, sending his shot unerringly past Reina.

Özil was the 97th different goalscorer under Wenger. Since arriving 17 years ago this week, Wenger has overseen 965 games, 559 wins and used 187 players from 46 different countries.

For all the focus on the £42 million Özil, Wenger has promoted 62 Academy graduates into the first team, and Kieran Gibbs played well while Jack Wilshere came on in the second, but Arsenal’s opening goals came from major signings.

Giroud struck the second as Napoli’s defence was again caught out by Arsenal’s sense of urgency and rapid attacking. The 15th-minute goal was rooted in good anticipation by Flamini.

Miguel Britos volleyed clear Zuniga’s throw deep in Napoli’s half. Flamini, hungrier for the ball, stretched out a boot in front of Hamsik, knocking the ball forward and Giroud found Özil. Arsenal’s No 11 calmly flicked the ball with that wand of a left across for Giroud to thump Arsenal further clear.

Arsenal were never going to maintain that momentum. Wilshere came on for Tomas Rosicky after an hour and did produce a magical touch to take the ball past Inler, drawing applause from a delighted crowd. Arsenal almost added a third when Özil lifted a ball in, Mikel Arteta flicked on and Laurent Koscielny was denied by Reina at close range.

By the end Arsenal fans were singing: “we are top of the league’’. Top of the Premier League — and Group F of the Champions League.

Life is good at the Emirates currently — thanks to Özil.

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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