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Bayern Munich reach near perfection in Eternal City

Bayern Munich's players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.

It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.

Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.

Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.

Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.

Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.

Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.

Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.

The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.

From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.

Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.

The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.

Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.

Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.

His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.

An illustration of Bayern's effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat's pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

An illustration of Bayern’s effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat’s pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.

Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.

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How the game was won – Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City

January 29, 2014 1 comment

Tottenham Hotspur 1-5 Manchester City

It would be unfair to criticise Tottenham Hotspur for not playing a conservative system at home however when you look at the talent in Manchester City’s forward line you really feel the game was lost by Tim Sherwood’s system choice prior to kick-off at White Hart Lane this evening.

This illustrates how Tottenham's two man midfield left them open to attack in the first half. Bentaleb had dropped deeper to sit in a holding role as he has done in recent weeks however that left Dembele far too exposed as a lone central midfielder as it were. The yellow arrows indicate the runs both Toure and Fernandinho were making beyond him and in essence Dembele was taken out of the game. He needed help and was not to get it until Tim Sherwood made the tactical change, by then Dembele had been substituted.

This illustrates how Tottenham’s two man midfield left them open to attack in the first half. Bentaleb had dropped deeper to sit in a holding role as he has done in recent weeks however that left Dembele far too exposed as a lone central midfielder as it were. The yellow arrows indicate the runs both Toure and Fernandinho were making beyond him and in essence Dembele was taken out of the game. He needed help and was not to get it until Tim Sherwood made the tactical change, by then Dembele had been substituted.

Tottenham Hotspur continued with the 4-2-3-1 system the club has been using for the majority of the season however as we have seen since Tim Sherwood’s arrival as Head Coach Nabil Bentaleb was deployed as a holding midfielder. Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson were positioned as part of the attacking midfield trio with both players interchanging between a central and left wing position throughout the match.

Manchester City started the match in control, Aguero’s early chance after just four minutes should have been the warning Spurs heeded however Manchester City continued to break through the host’s midfield with such ease. This was a direct result of the positioning of Bentaleb in relation to Dembele. Bentaleb has done nothing wrong, he was right to drop slightly deeper in order to perform his duties as a holding midfield player however this left Moussa Dembele on his own in the middle of midfield which is fine if a) you aren’t facing Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Fernandinho or b) if you have a more mobile holding midfielder able to cover the majority of the space.

Dembele on his own could not contain the forward runs of Toure and Fernandinho and the two bypassed him with ease before moving the ball onto either Navas or Silva who were entrusted with the task of creating chances for the as ever impressive Sergio Aguero. Eriksen and Sigurdsson really needed to work much harder to drop back into the space and help Dembele out yet neither appeared willing to do so although in fairness to the players this is something which should have been thought of by Tim Sherwood prior to the match.

The lack of numbers of midfield for Tottenham also rendered any sort of pressing game within their own half impossible and Silva and Navas both benefitted from time on the ball which allowed them to pick the perfect pass. David Silva’s assist for Aguero and City’s opening goal was a perfect example of this.

Tottenham did show they could be a danger going forward with Adebayor’s first run in earnest against Martin Demichelis making the experienced Argentine look out of place, however Tottenham simply could not keep hold of the ball long enough to bring Adebayor into play.

Half-time saw Sigurdsson drop into the middle of midfield as part of a midfield three with Capoue and Bentaleb as Tim Sherwood recognised how his side had been completely overrun for the majority of the opening forty five minutes and Tottenham instantly improved. There was more control about their play and the hosts held much more of the ball and looked as if they were going to get back into the match. Danny Rose’s sending off and the resulting penalty really ended the match as a contest as it is impossible to play against a team as well organised and rich in quality as Manchester City are with less men on the pitch.

The match was over as a contest from this point and Manchester City as you would expect kept the ball well and treated the remaining half hour as a training exercise. Tottenham by no means disgraced themselves this evening and will perhaps feel aggrieved with regards to the sending off however the real mistake was made before the game in trying to outplay a team as strong as Manchester City with only two in midfield.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Chelsea vs Stoke City

January 26, 2014 1 comment

Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City

Stoke City yet again set up in a formation which catered for three midfield players in a central position. Whilst slightly different to the 4-3-3 utilised against Liverpool a number of weeks ago in the sense Stephen Ireland pushed slightly further up, Stoke City were again far too flat in midfield and made it a comfortable afternoon for Chelsea without Jose Mourinho’s side having to get out of second gear.

This shows how Geoff Cameron stood off Eden Hazard this afternoon. The black circle indicates the gap between the two players and whilst it may not seem significant it opens up numerous other avenues for Hazard as indicated by the yellow arrows. He has the time to make a decision and the quick feet to leave a back tracking Cameron behind. This was systematic of Stoke's approach and the visitors really let Chelsea play and dictate terms.

This shows how Geoff Cameron stood off Eden Hazard this afternoon. The black circle indicates the gap between the two players and whilst it may not seem significant it opens up numerous other avenues for Hazard as indicated by the yellow arrows. He has the time to make a decision and the quick feet to leave a back tracking Cameron behind. This was systematic of Stoke’s approach and the visitors really let Chelsea play and dictate terms.

Stoke’s midfield trio of N’Zonzi, Ireland and Palacios did not entertain the idea of pressing, Lampard and more importantly Matic, on debut, were both given time on the ball and Stoke invited pressure upon their defence. With Lampard and Matic not closed down it was easy for either of those two players to make a small amount of ground going forward and then move the ball onto either Schurrle on the right or Hazard on the left.

Hazard was a real handful all afternoon long, right from the first five minutes where the Belgian got a measure of Stoke’s Geoff Cameron at right back, beating him at pace with consummate ease.

Chelsea’s comfort in possession through Stoke’s lack of pressing was made evident by the movement of Frank Lampard. The experienced  midfielder was afforded such time and space when in possession that he could move ahead of Matic and stay roundabout in that position just behind Eto’o, level with Oscar. Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 system was fluidly changing into a 4-1-4-1 as Stoke allowed it to. This is a formation that is very effective when used by a team who controls possession as we have seen with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side this season and Chelsea in this shape gave Stoke barely any chance of getting back into the tie.

Stoke did make some attempt at pressing Chelsea but in both the wrong areas and in the wrong way. Stoke’s midfield would allow Matic and Lampard to bypass them with passes into the attacking midfielders but then Stoke’s defence would rush forward and try to win the ball through the back of a Chelsea player. This proved to be a problem as it put several of Stoke’s defenders on a card and led to the host’s goal with Oscar dispatching a resulting free-kick.

It is very difficult as a team of Stoke’s stature to go to a Stamford Bridge or an Old Trafford and try and force yourself upon the game. It is very easy to sit back and hope to catch the hosts on the break, however Stoke’s management of Hazard on the left hand side was poor. You can’t let a player of Hazard’s quality and quick feet run at you, you have to make it difficult for him by close marking and restricting movement, as soon as you invite Hazard to run at you, he’s gone by you as Geoff Cameron found out too many times this afternoon.

Look how different the situation would have been had Geoff Cameron not stood off Hazard, yet had actually pressed the Belgian and stuck close too him. Hazard's options would have been reduced as Cameron would have been close enough to him to track his movements, from this position it would have taken a real moment of brilliance from Hazard to escape Cameron and create a chance for Eto'o.

Look how different the situation would have been had Geoff Cameron not stood off Hazard, yet had actually pressed the Belgian and stuck close too him. Hazard’s options would have been reduced as Cameron would have been close enough to him to track his movements, from this position it would have taken a real moment of brilliance from Hazard to escape Cameron and create a chance for Eto’o.

Chelsea’s attacking midfield trio of Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar were fantastic, although their afternoons were made easier by Stoke’s timid approach. The movement of those aforementioned players was fantastic with the three interchanging positions throughout the match making it difficult for Stoke’s defenders to stick to a single man in terms of marking. Had it not been for Chelsea’s worryingly characteristic profligacy in front of goal, Stoke could have found themselves on the end of a sizably bigger defeat.

Marko Arnautovic has been picked out as Stoke’s best player this season and has at times shown this to be true with some outstanding individual displays however Jose Mourinho’s former player at Internazionale was poor this afternoon. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic both were given easy afternoons with Arnautovic not really testing either of them with a direct run. In fairness Stoke seldom had the ball in a position to provide Arnautovic good service.

This is not a massive disaster for Stoke, there was very little expectation upon Mark Hughes’ side to get a result, as there wasn’t against Liverpool earlier this month however if Stoke are to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle, Mark Hughes will have to come up with a different way of playing against teams around them as the flat three man midfield who don’t press the opposition will not win the club matches.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Stoke City vs Liverpool

Stoke City 3-5 Liverpool

Stoke City opted for a team selection which should have given them a great versatility in midfield, in selecting Whelan, N’Zonzi and Adam as three central midfielders the potential to play a 4-2-3-1 system which easily formed a 4-3-3 system should the situation require it was in evidence. However Stoke simply played with a flat three in midfield with Charlie Adam occasionally venturing forward and this is what led to the host’s consistent downfall throughout the match.

We can see here the flatness of Stoke's midfield three. The yellow arrows indicate how easy it was for the deeper Liverpool midfielders to pass through them and take them out of the game due to Stoke's flat line. This then put immense pressure on Shawcross and Wilson who had been offered no support from the midfield. The two black lines also indicate Stoke's further midfield failing as it illustrates the gap between Stoke's midfield and Liverpool's. There was no pressing from Stoke and Liverpool could keep possession and think about the killer pass which would take the Stoke midfield out of the move completely.

We can see here the flatness of Stoke’s midfield three. The yellow arrows indicate how easy it was for the deeper Liverpool midfielders to pass through them and take them out of the game due to Stoke’s flat line. This then put immense pressure on Shawcross and Wilson who had been offered no support from the midfield. The two black lines also indicate Stoke’s further midfield failing as it illustrates the gap between Stoke’s midfield and Liverpool’s. There was no pressing from Stoke and Liverpool could keep possession and think about the killer pass which would take the Stoke midfield out of the move completely.

Liverpool did not put in a great performance worthy of the five goals they scored, in fact aside from Luis Suarez there is an argument to suggest nobody on the Liverpool side had better than a ‘good’ game. However one thing Liverpool did excellently was retain the ball in the midfield and inside their own half, the midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Lucas held things together solidly and we even some glimpses of movement from Lucas into an attacking midfield position just like he had played at Gremio with Henderson dropping deeper to cover the gap.

With Stoke’s flat midfield three there was very little pressing of Liverpool when the visitors had the ball inside their own half and as such ball retention was relatively straightforward for the Liverpool midfield. Furthermore with Stoke’s flat three man midfield there was little thoughtful movement and Liverpool could easily pass through and beyond them and take three Stoke players out of the game completely which put Shawcross and Wilson under significant pressure from Suarez’s excellent pressing game.

Stoke’s flatness in midfield was the cause of their downfall not only defensively but also going forward, it invited pressure from Henderson, Gerrard and Lucas. Stoke were not afforded the same time on the ball that Liverpool were in midfield and this is why we saw Stoke giving the ball away in poor areas and thus making Liverpool’s afternoon a lot easier than it should have been.

Stoke held arguably their only real good spell of the match between the thirty seventh and forty seventh minute of play and even then their first goal came out of nothing after some good work from Arnautovic on the left before finding Peter Crouch in the middle unmarked courtesy of some poor Kolo Toure defending. Stoke’s second goal then came from a mistake with Liverpool giving the ball away from a goal kick.

Jack Butland received one of his few opportunities to start in the Stoke goal yesterday and impressed, making particularly good saves to deny Luis Suarez and later Daniel Sturridge but was let down by the lack of protection his defence was given by the midfield as well as the individual errors made by members of the defence. You hope this is recognised by Mark Hughes and the young goalkeeper isn’t dropped for the next fixture despite seeing five goals put past him at home.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Manchester City vs West Ham United

Manchester City 6-0 West Ham United

West Ham United set out in a 4-3-3 formation for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final this evening in the hope that the three man midfield would be able to withstand the likely barrage it would face from City’s potent attack. Sam Allardyce veered away from his usual 4-2-3-1 system used at West Ham due to the sizeable gaps that get created in between the lines with such a flat two man midfield as anybody who has watched Swansea City regularly this season can confirm.

Manchester City's fifth goal illustrates West Ham's defensive frailties perfectly. The two red circles indicate mistakes by the relevant defender, for example the first is Guy Demel being out of position and not tracking the run of Gael Clichy. The second is the initial positioning of Andy O'Brien in the box, he is too far away from Dzeko and as a result is not able to get close to the Bosnian as he was on the end of the cross.

Manchester City’s fifth goal illustrates West Ham’s defensive frailties perfectly. The two red circles indicate mistakes by the relevant defender, for example the first is Guy Demel being out of position and not tracking the run of Gael Clichy. The second is the initial positioning of Andy O’Brien in the box, he is too far away from Dzeko and as a result is not able to get close to the Bosnian as he was on the end of the cross.

Throughout the evening Manchester City perfectly illustrated the art of impressing without actually trying too hard, almost every single goal was gifted to them by a woeful defensive performance from the visitors. Take nothing away however from the performances of Alvaro Negredo who scored his second hat-trick for the Eastlands club and David Silva who pulled the strings effortlessly from just behind the two forwards.

The key factor of how the 6-0 result came to be was West Ham’s simply awful defending. Admittedly it was the first time the central defensive partnership of Roger Johnson and Joey O’Brien had played together yet it evidently looked like it on the pitch. The first goal was a prime example of the slack concentration in the minds of the two West Ham centre halves, a route one pass from the middle of midfield somehow caught O’Brien and Johnson both flat-footed and Negredo had ultimately no offside trap to beat in order to get into the position to score an excellent opening goal.

Things didn’t get any better for West Ham at the back, there were no lessons learned throughout the ninety minutes with Joey O’Brien monumentally out of position for Yaya Toure’s goal and Manchester City’s third, leaving Roger Johnson too much to do on his own with Guy Demel unaware of the situation and the need to move across and cover for the absent O’Brien.

Manchester City passed the ball around well, especially in the middle of midfield with Javi Garcia putting in a quiet yet impressive shift alongside Yaya Toure and later Martin Demichelis however West Ham’s defensive movement far too often created a huge gap particularly on the left wing which made up the mind of a City player before he had chance to make it himself.

Guy Demel was caught out of position too often at right-back and one of David Silva or Samir Nasri made a run into the space and put several good crosses into the box and it was only courtesy of West Ham’s man of the match, goalkeeper Adrian that the scoreline didn’t move into double figures.

The fifth and penultimate goal added final insult to injury for West Ham when Joey O’Brien was caught completely lost inside his own penalty area and allowed Edin Dzeko to get a run on him and then slot the ball into the back of the net with O’Brien scrambling to reach the Bosnian, the lack of awareness that was evident throughout the night was illustrated perfectly in that one goal.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

Cazorla goal, Walker error with arrows

The solid yellow arrows illustrate Michael Dawson’s movement pattern and how it was forcing Gnabry away from the Spurs goal and as such, any danger. Walker’s move inside left Cazorla on his own and the blue dashed arrow shows the gap that was created for the pass to go through and Cazorla to run in behind and latch onto. The red circle illustrates where Walker should have remained instead of being dragged into a poor position due to ball watching.

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur

After such an important and morale boosting victory at Old Trafford on Wednesday Tottenham simply let themselves down with a poor, uninventive performance bereft of defensive concentration at the Emirates this evening.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side, set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Theo Walcott the lone forward, played some fantastically fluid football in patches but there was always the feeling that the Gunners didn’t need to overly push themselves to force openings within the Spurs backline. Tim Sherwood who has taken the Spurs hot-seat championing exciting attacking football has every reason to be concerned with the lack of positional awareness shown by his back four this evening.

One of the crux points which contributed to Tottenham’s demise was the performance of Kyle Walker at right back. If you were to want to view a perfect example of how not to approach playing the right-back role, then this was it. Walker so often has been able to rely on his speed across the turf to recover mistakes and make up for his less than sound defensive awareness however today Arsenal in their movement and passing were just too clever for him.

Walker was all at sea in terms of positioning with the English right-back often drifting too central leaving a man open on the left-wing with Aaron Lennon doing next to no backtracking work. Just take for example Arsenal’s opening goal, a fantastic bursting run from Gnabry to create an opportunity for the hosts however Walker made up the teenager’s mind for him before the German had had a chance to do so himself by moving away from the right hand side to try and win the ball.

In the situation this was unnecessary and ill-advised as Michael Dawson was in fact shepherding Gnabry away from goal at an angle, if Walker had stayed with Cazorla on the left the pass would never have been on but in moving towards the ball a gap was created and Gnabry had no other option than to slot it in behind into the path of the Spaniard.

Whilst Spurs defensively were poor nothing can be taken away from the performance of Tomas Rosicky who was exceptional. If there was a performance which was to characterise the Czech’s resurgence over the past six months, then this was it. Rosicky covered so much ground, at an impressive pace.

He was centric to most of Arsenal’s attacks going forward often being the link-man between Walcott and Gnabry in the hole normally filled by Mesut Ozil. He also always made himself an option for Arteta to move the ball on which is always necessary when utilising such a flat and deep midfield pairing.

One of the more quietly important points to be made with regards to Rosicky’s movement and the broad distances covered by the former Dortmund man is that it gave Arsenal the fluidity to break forward and attack without Jack Wilshere having to roam too much from his deeper position in the centre.

Without Rosicky’s work across the midfield we would have more than likely seen Wilshere going too far forward, leaving Arteta too isolated in the middle and Arsenal overrun in midfield, just how Spurs actually were in the match as it turned out with Dembele and Bentaleb going too far forward out of position, leaving the back four little protection.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Napoli vs Arsenal

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Olivier Giroud missed Arsenal's best chance of the night which may prove to be a bigger miss in the latter stages of the tournament.

Olivier Giroud missed Arsenal’s best chance of the night which may prove to be a bigger miss in the latter stages of the tournament.

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