How the game was won – Napoli vs Arsenal
Napoli 2 – 0 Arsenal
Both Napoli and Arsenal put a 4-2-3-1 formation to use this evening in a Champions League group which went right down to the wire much to the eventual dismay of Napoli. This choice of formation made for a match which in the first half appeared an end-to-end contest courtesy of the gaps a two man midfield cannot legislate for which we saw in even greater evidence during last season’s Champions League final between Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Arsenal’s first half ball retention was impressive with Mathieu Flamini’s mobility being key in Arsenal being able to keep possession away from Napoli for reasonably long periods, furthermore Flamini was able to get across and cover for Mikel Arteta who did not enjoy the best of nights prior to being sent off 10 minutes from time.
Napoli’s play throughout the game was reminiscent of the English sides which surprised the rest of Europe in the late nineties with their rip-roaringly energetic attitude to both sides of the game, Napoli pressed in numbers at pace across the whole of the pitch and they went forward in attack with up to six players at one time due to Armero and Maggio’s wing-back role. Napoli’s attacking play however was lacking in the final third and the craft of Lorenzo Insigne was missed significantly until his second half introduction.
Arsenal could have made the match a very different one near the climax of the first half when Olivier Giroud had an opportunity to have a shot on goal only for the Frenchman to fire straight into the hands of Rafael. These are the golden half chances which you have to make a better use of when you go away from home later on in the Champions League, if you are to stand a chance of winning the competition.
The game changed for Napoli early in the second half when Rafael Benitez introduced Insigne and the young Italian turned the match on its head. The Naples born attacking midfielder just added the final element of craft to the many profligate Napoli attacks which had been lacking a finishing touch up until that point. Insigne’s direct style of play coupled with the Italians rejuvenated pressing game caused the visitors problems and Arsenal struggled to hold onto the ball as they had throughout the opening forty five minutes, and this gave Napoli the impetus to go forward and open the scoring twenty minutes from time.
Arteta’s clumsy red card whilst harsh was indicative of his evening and it should have given Napoli a base to try and score the two further goals they needed to ensure progression at the expense of Arsenal however no such wave of attack came and it was such that a late Borussia Dortmund goal in France put the Italians out of the competition with just minutes left. Jose Callejon’s late chip over Wojciech Szczesny in injury time was too little too late but once again highlighted the talents of Insigne and how he turned the match in Napoli’s favour.
Insigne’s introduction panicked what had been an assured Arsenal side up to that point and Arsene Wenger’s men never really recovered and the importance of Olivier Giroud’s chance may have been highlighted further in a more important fixture. Had Napoli introduced Insigne earlier or at least pushed harder for a goal in the first half and not missed so many chances the Italians had more than a good chance of scoring the three goals required to knock Arsenal out.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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