Napoli (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 1
UEFA Europa League, Quarter Final, Second Leg
Stadio San Paolo, Piazza Giorgio Ascarelli, 80125 Napoli NA, Italy
Thursday, 18th April 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Torreira, Xhaka; Kolašinac, Ramsey, Lacazette; Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Özil, Iwobi, Leno, Mustafi, Guendouzi.
Yellow Card: Čech
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania)
Attendance: circa 50,000
Cometh the moment, cometh the man. A world-class goal by Alexandre Lacazette from 25-yards after just thirty-six minutes propelled us into the semi-final of this competition, with the first leg being against the Spanish side Valencia (Mr. Emery’s old club) at The Emirates on Thursday 2nd May. Nikola Maksimovic carelessly scythed down Alexandre Lacazette outside the Napoli box for a direct free-kick to the away side; as soon as the ball left the Arsenal striker’s foot, it became patently obvious that there was only to be one victor tonight here at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples. The only unfortunate moment of the evening was the sad sight of Aaron Ramsey limping off with a suspected hamstring injury just before Alexandre Lacazette’s goal.
There is always talk in the media about “game management”; a term that is often used rather glibly, but tonight, Mr. Emery’s team gave a masterclass in the subject. If qualifications were given out for it, then surely most players in the Arsenal team would qualify for an honours degree in the subject against, what has to be said, a very disappointing and lacklustre Napoli side.
Right from the onset of the match, Arsenal assumed control. Aaron Ramsey claimed a penalty within the first ten minutes, which was denied by the Romanian referee almost immediately after the event. We simply grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck, brought it to heel and showed through hard work and action that we had a steely determination not only to win, but not to allow Napoli any space and time to score. Although it has to be said that the home side did indeed have their chances, but all were half-hearted and criminally squandered.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan looked as if he was playing with a newly found enthusiasm, which was refreshing to see, especially as his last few performances have been questionable to say the least. He was causing Napoli problems and may have even scored himself, but for the agility of the Napoli goalkeeper, Alex Meret, who also pulled off a fine save from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang late in the second half which should have seen Arsenal finish the match beyond the reach of the home side. Arsenal simply did everything right tonight in this vocal cauldron of Italian football. They played without fear, concern and were aware of the whereabouts of their team-mates were to receive passes and move within the framework of the system.
Mr. Emery had obviously done sterling work with them during the past week in order to ensure no mistakes would be made tonight, and his and the backroom staff’s endeavours should be roundly applauded for this result. Maybe the hard work is done in the Premiership week after week when Arsenal face some top-class opponents and perhaps it could be that Serie A and their equivalent leagues across Europe are simply not up to the standard of the Premiership? It surely is no accident that for the first time in 35 years that four English clubs are in the last four of the two European club competitions next month either. But as far as the Europa League is concerned, a competition that Mr. Emery has won three times previously, we must surely look at the other teams in the competition and feel that this year could be our year to win silverware at this level of European football, as well as finishing in the top four in the Premiership also.
To summarise, full marks for a much-maligned Arsenal side, who not only brought a smile to us tonight, but more importantly gave themselves the impetus to have the chance for glory in this, Mr. Emery’s first season in the hot seat. Sadly, in his post-match interview, he was unable to state whether Aaron Ramsey had played his last match for us or not; just how good would that be if his last match for us could be the final of this competition in Baku on Wednesday 29th May.Dare we dream? Hell, yes. 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.