01 October 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Napoli—sittin' pretty atop Group F

In the aftermath of a win that might actually understate the extent of our dominance (63% possession, only one shot on target from Napoli, a clean sheet...), we now sit in firm control of Group F, having won one way and now one at home. Napoli and Dortmund each now have one loss while we sit pretty with two wins,  six of the "10.2"
thanks to arsenalist.com for the gif.
points that Arsène has stated as the threshold for advancing—and we still have four matches to play. This hasn't been dubbed the Group of Death on whim, so we should beware of counting our eggs before they hatch. However, with those four matches to play and five points likely enough to advance, we could be forgiven for getting excited. Winning 2-0, of course, gives us a bit more of a buffer on goal-differential should points alone not be enough.

For the first goal, of course, Özil again has shown his value, his quality, and his skill. Before we get to that, however, let's applaud Giroud for his control and deft flick to Ramsey on the overlap to create the opportunity. There was some hand-wringing over Giroud, given his apparent dry-patch (no goals in three appearances), but his ability to create that opening is every bit as vital as actually putting shots on target. He may be overstating his ambitions or abilities when he talks of winning a Golden Boot, but his intelligent movement and ability to create chances for others suggest that this could indeed be a banner year for the man. There. We'll come back to Giroud in a moment.

For now, Özil. His touch on this first goal was sublime. Credit is due of course to Giroud for opening the sequence, to Ramsey for placing the pass, and to Rosický for clearing the box with an intelligent run to the near post, dragging two defenders with him and creating acres of open space at the top of the box. By the time the ball reached Özil. he had no one around him and nothing but time. Instead of misusing that time, however, Özil one-timed it beautifully, arcing it just beyond Reina's reach while keeping it inside the far-post, striking the very corner of the back of the net. To short-hop a volley like that, putting it where the keeper has no chance while keeping it on frame, is simply breath-taking. Anyone who can watch that and claim that we overpaid is a fool, pure and simple.

As for the second goal, well, it was vintage Giroud. After some sloppy play from Napoli from a throw-in their defensive third, Giroud won the ball, found Özil on the edge of the box and began one of the smartest runs we'll see given the time available. In the GIF below, thanks to arsenalist.com, watch as Giroud makes the pass and then curls his run through the corner of the box. He first darts up-field a bit and then manages to find the perfect spot between two defenders as he moves toward the center of the box, trending, of course, to the near post as has become a trademark move of his. Even with defenders on either shoulder, Giroud created just the right amount of space and time to prepare for Özil's pass, and all that was left for Giroud was to run onto the ball and tap it home. The man now has five goals in eight appearances and is playing some of the best football he's ever played in an Arsenal kit, statistics or not.

For as much as we might want to make of Özil's statistical contributions—a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win ain't half-bad—what he brings to the pitch in terms of confidence and inspiration is just as significant. It's therefore gratifying to see that he's scored his first goal while also turning in yet another assist (his fourth in seven appearances, while we're at it). With his performance on the night, it was a bit of a let-down that Higuain was unavailable. No offense against the man, as he only did what most of us would do in accepting the most attractive offer, but Özil's ability to make everyone around him better is beyond valuation. Whether it's knowing that a pass will find you, or seeing him and believing more deeply in what you can do, Özil's arrival seems to be transforming the entire squad.

However, let's not make too much of one man. This was an all-around performance, as signified by the scoreline, our first clean sheet since the identical score-line against Marseille four matches ago. It may not be as famous as other 2-0 wins in recent history, but it shows what we're capable of as we sliced open one of the world's best clubs in scintillating fashion while almost completely nullifying their much-vaunted attack, delivering Napoli its first loss under Benitez. A dominant performance, on the whole, and one that sends fair warning to West Brom ahead of Saturday's match that this is a squad at or near the very top of its game—and gaining momentum with the returns of Arteta and Rosický.

Right. That trip to the Hawthorns awaits, a rematch of sorts, and one we would be foolish to underestimate given how handily West Brom despatched Man U. However, I rather fancy our chances if today's performance is any indication.

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