Arsenal (2) 0 Napoli (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Quarter Final, First Leg
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 11th April 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Torreira, Ramsey; Kolašinac, Özil, Lacazette; Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Leno, Mustafi, Suárez, Guendouzi.
Scorers: Ramsey, Koulibaly
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
Attendance: circa 60,000
Back to The Emirates, and of course, back to winning ways, which is de rigueur for our home matches this season. How different tonight’s match in both attitude and aptitude from the horrendous car crash that befell the team at Goodson Park just 96 hours hence (or thereabouts). Tonight’s match was a tale of two midfielders, the departing Aaron Ramsey and the remaining Lucas Torreira, both of whom completely oozed class and dominace here in North London this evening.
Aaron Ramsey’s opening goal was surely nothing short of sublime, and coming as it did, on quarter of an hour after the start, showed Arsenal’s intent. As we have seen before with the Welsh Wizard this season, the move he started became the goal he finished. A nifty pass to Mesut Özil, who then gently pushed the ball on to Alexandre Lacazette which travelled quickly to Ainsley Maitland-Niles; the man who started the move then received it and in the blink of an eye it was in the back of the Napoli net. Just like that. Confidence in a football team is always 90 per cent of the proceedings, and for the next ten minutes or so, Arsenal showed their class. Ten minutes after taking the lead, Lucas Torreira received the ball on the edge of the Napoli area, and merely took a chance with a quick shot that caught the unfortunate Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly on its way to wickedly going high and over goalkeeper Alex Meret and into the net to make it two-nil to Arsenal. The remaining twenty minutes of the first half became a running battle between our strikers and the Napoli defenders as to who was to gain the upper hand. By rights, it should have been us, with both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang getting mighty close with some superb shots, provided by our midfielders, who were doing sterling work in providing them with the necessary tools to finish the job. Despite all this and more, we went into the break two goals to the good and a promise of an even better second half.
Undoubtedly the happier of the two managers, Mr. Emery kept his nerve and the team as it was before in a never-ending search for that elusive third goal. The Napoli manager, our old friend Mr. Ancelotti had other ideas and put pressure on our defence which managed to hold firm throughout, even with the heart stopping moment when Napoli did manage to finally get the ball past Petr Čech and into the net, only for the match officials to correctly rule it out for offside. Phew. The match levelled out, and Mr. Emery made three substitutions in ten minutes; Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny for Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Torreira. Off we went again. Despite some wonderful football emanating from the football brain of Aaron Ramsey, we just could not get that killer third goal to take to Naples next week. Still, a good win, and one that we can hopefully build on next Thursday.
What price Aaron Ramsey, we ask ourselves? He seems to be on the way to becoming more of a complete midfielder as he gets closer to the exit signs to start his new career at Juventus. With performances such as this tonight, we are starting to question the wisdom of allowing him to leave North London. We are now all surely praying that this clever footballer doesn’t come back to haunt us one day; but the world of professional football works in mysterious ways, as well we know. Still no Denis Suárez, who is becoming almost Garbo-like in his non-appearance on the pitch, sadly. It would have been good to see Mattéo Guendouzi stretch his legs for a while at some point in the match, but as the game was going our way early on in the proceedings, his skills were not required tonight. And so, it’s Naples for the chaps next week, and we are all hoping that we can see the job through well enough to get to the semi-final draw. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.