A lot of Arsenal’s recent wins in the excellent run of form have been functional. This was particularly true at the end of last season when Arsenal went back to basics to make sure they made it into the Champions League. Having worked so hard to get back into Europe’s top competition, Arsenal showed on Tuesday night that they have to built on their solid base and gone back to playing the beautiful game.
Tuesday night marked 17 years as manager of the Arsenal for Arsene Wenger, and some of the best teams he’s built at the club would go out and destroy teams in the opening 20 minutes before toying with them for the rest of the game. The current Arsenal side are still very much a work in progress, but their first half performance against Napoli, unbeaten in Serie A this season, has deservedly drawn comparisons with Wenger’s best teams.
At the heart of it was a £42 million midfielder who proved what spending that kind of money can get you if it’s spent well, an ever improving striker who bullied the centre backs, a young Welshman who was playing out of position but still impressed and a free transfer who held the fort superbly in front of the defence.
It may well have been Rafael Benitez and Napoli’s game plan to try and play on the counter attack, but it backfired badly. With the midfield metronome back in the shape of Mikel Arteta, Arsenal barely gave the Italians a whiff of the ball in the early exchanges. They went out and played like a team with confidence and a team who believe they can beat anyone at the moment. 10 wins in a row in all competitions is evidence of that.
Whilst Mesut Ozil has made an accomplished start to his Arsenal career, it wouldn’t be good enough for some people (or some of the press!) until he scored his goal. His duck was emphatically broken with a truly stunning goal. For those who have ever wondered why football is called the beautiful game, watch Ozil’s goal. The build-up was impressive, the cross from Ramsey to the edge of the box was excellent and Ozil’s finish was perfect. What struck me was the calmness with which he took the shot. Like a gorgeous brush stroke from an artist, he eased the ball in a lovely arch just inside the post and beyond Reina’s dive. I can watch that goal over and over again, and I’ll smile every time I see it.
After netting his first goal, Ozil went back to his role as the king of the assists. He found space on the right, showed good pace and gave Olivier Giroud a simple chance to grab the goal his performance deserved. By his standards this season, Giroud had been on a mini goal drought having not netted for three games, but that was never likely to last long with Ozil being able to find Giroud after the Frenchman has made some excellent runs.
Arsenal could have scored three or four goals in the first half and it wouldn’t have flattered them. Even in the quieter second half, Arsenal controlled the match and created the better openings when they flicked the switch and attacked the Italians with pace.
The glorious attacking will get the headlines, but it was possible because Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta were happy to be the foundations for Arsenal to build on. Flamini may have been a convenient panic buy, but his signing on a free transfer is turning out to be inspired. With Walcott, Cazorla and Podolski to come back into the frame at some point, the options in Arsenal’s midfield are frighteningly good.
The win sets Arsenal up perfectly for the difficult double header with Borussia Dortmund. After the Germans beat Marseille, they won’t want to allow Arsenal any easy points if they are going to match or beat their second place finish in last season’s Champions League. If Arsenal can keep their form up until Dortmund come to the Emirates, they can get a result that would almost catapult the Gunners out of the group of death.
It might still be too early in the season to talk up Arsenal’s chances of serious silverware in May, but the way they deconstructed Napoli showed that this Arsenal team mean business. They’ve got the steel to go with the stunningly beautiful style that took the breath away of most inside the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.