Arsenal defeated Napoli at the Emirates on Thursday night in the first leg of the Europa League Quarter-Finals. Arsenal’s dominant 1st half performance provided a 2-0 cushion heading into next week’s match in Naples. Considering Arsenal’s away form over the past few seasons, in actuality a 2-0 lead will due little to quell concerns of the Gunners’ chance to advance to the Semi-Finals.
Arsenal came out guns blazing in the first 45 minutes. The side put together scintillating 1-2 passes with Özil and Ramsey playing key roles in the creation of opportunities. The first goal came in the 14th minute from Aaron Ramsey, who will be departing this summer to play alongside Ronaldo at Juventus, after a pass back towards the middle of the box from Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Lucas Torreira netted the second goal in the 25th minute, which took a poor deflection off of Koudibaly.
The Gunners’ attacking prowess is no secret as the concerns with the squad have centered around the defense. For most of the match Sokratis, Monreal, and Koscielny were able to stymie the threat of Insigne and the Napoli attackers. Yet, the Serie A side grew into the match and were able to put the pressure on in search of the coveted away goal. Arsenal kept the clean sheet and will head to the San Paolo Stadium knowing that one goal could change the landscape of the match.
Two away wins in 2019 is the type of statistic that would be attributed to a mid table club, but in fact Arsenal are the proprietor of such a record. Unai Emery was said to have held meetings with the squad in search of answers for their poor away record. Emery told the media,
“We were speaking in the dressing room about how we can fix our problem. We spoke a lot about that and what we need to win, to improve, to create. ”
The lack of offensive creativity has been a constant source of frustration for the Gunners during this stretch. Even when Arsenal gave up goals, it was their inability to respond that has prevented the capability to get a quality result.
Unai Emery must be bitterly disappointed, however, that his side were unable to kill off Napoli in the first leg. The chances were there to be had. Ramsey, for all of his immense quality, missed a sitter which would have brought the lead up to three. A 2-0 deficit for Carlo Ancelotti’s men is by no means a death sentence. Arsenal have lost each away leg in the knockout rounds of the Europa League. A 1-0 loss to BATE Borisov as well as a 3-1 defeat to Stade Rennais highlights Arsenal’s crucial weakness.
Napoli were undefeated at home throughout the Champions League Group Stage and Europa League knockout to date, with their only drawing coming against PSG. Napoli have also gone 11-4-1 at home in Serie A this season. Arsenal will surely know that thwarting the skills of Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Arkadiusz Milik will be a difficult endeavor.
While it is enticing to immediately look ahead to next week’s match in Italy, Arsenal must first try to turn around their away fortunes at Vicarage Road against Watford in the Premier League. Watford are 8-2-5 at home in the Premier League, and Javi Garcia in addition to the players will be high in confidence with the opportunity to take advantage of Arsenal’s woes. If they can frustrate the Gunners’ attacking trio in a similar vein to the performance by Everton, then Arsenal’s top four hopes will take a undeniable setback.