Arsenal 2-0 Napoli: Tactical Analysis

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Arsenal 2-0 Napoli

How times Change! Flashback a month ago: Arsenal lose 1-3 to Aston Villa in the opening weekend and the echelons on Arsene Wenger’s forehead are causing ripples more than ever. A wretched transfer window activity coupled with doubts from the home faithful. Come transfer deadline day the French professor goes in search of mozzarella cheese, but comes back with black forest cream icing on the top, albeit a certain German Mesut Ozil. The same could be said of a certain 51 year old Spaniard. The “interim” tag is off his back following his acrimonious spell at Chelsea and Rafa Benitez is back to what he does best- Winning games with ease.

Two of the best managers in the world currently, two high flying teams battling each other and a match football lovers, ought not to miss. In what was rightly called the match of the Gameweek two in the Champions League, Arsenal played host to Rafa Benitez led Napoli at the Emirates Stadium. Both the teams came into the encounter on the back of winning starts in what was dubbed as the Group of Death. Napoli beat Dortmund 2-1 at home on Matchday One while Arsenal grabbed an away win over Marseille on account of the same scoreline. Thus the stage was all set for an intriguing clash, the Grand Old man of the Premier League going head to head against the Tactical Genius.

Starting Line Ups and both the managers’ approach

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The big news was Gonzalo Higuain not making to the starting eleven due to cramps and muscle spasms in training. Raul Albiol recovered to take his place alongside Miguel Britos in the starting eleven for the Partenopei. For the Gunners though, it was surprising to see no wingers on the pitch, Wilshere was benched , so was Serge Gnabry. It meant Ramsey and Rosicky being shunted out wide, Ozil played the number 10 role with Giroud up front. Arsenal thus started flat in the midfield.

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Talk of dominance, irrestible opening quarter of an hour, the Gunners were at their sizzling best. So much so Napoli didn’t look like a Rafa Benitez team from the outset. Saying Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession would be an understatement. Much like men against boys, The Gunners were at their passing best with lots of fluidity in the middle.

Ozil Scores a Gem but where is Napoli’s Marking?

Napoli just didn’t come at bay on what had hit them from the start. Neither did the two fullbacks know what roles they had been assigned. Quite swashbuckling and the swagger with which the Gunners came out firing all cylinders, Arsenal were simply irrestible. Let’s just analyze on how Mesut Ozil gives the home side the lead. Consider the following snap, Giroud flicks it for Ramsey, the Welshman picks it and lays it for Ozil who is in acres of space. And the finish, Wow! Thats the kind of finishing you get when you 42 million for someone like him.

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Zuniga is out of position, both the Central defensive Midfielders Behrami and Inler are caught ball watching. When you allow so much acres of space in the penalty box, there is only going to be one result. Arsenal 1-0 ahead in the eighth minute. A kind of goal you could watch over and over again.

The battle of the wingbacks and how Sagna wins his duel with Zuniga

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Much had been talked before the game on individual duels. But the way Bacary Sagna cut forays across the Napoli left wing back, Juan Zuniga, there would be only one way tempo. Zuniga was caught out of position time and again and simply unable to cope with the pressure induced by the home side on the right.

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The second Arsenal goal also shows how immense the home side were at pressing the ball high up the pitch. A poor clearance by Albiol strikes Rosicky,  Zuniga is caught off the ball, Ozil lays it this time reciprocating to Giroud, the Frenchman puts the home team two ahead. Napoli players would be asking how on world in a Champions League match, are three players asked to cover the base of the pitch. Quite astonishing!

Where Arsene Wenger outwitted Rafa Benitez

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It was quite initially surprising to see Arsenal start without any wingers, Wenger preferring a flat five in the middle of the pitch. However, the Game was decided by three choices. Rosicky was deployed as a gliding Midfielder, Ozil was given a free roaming role, but what made the difference was perhaps Aaron Ramsey used as a box to box midfielder.

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The Welshman has been in inspiring form this season, and much of the credit goes to Wenger on how he has been used. The above snap shows how Ramsey was at the helm of every Arsenal move last night. With three tackles in the middle of the pitch and with an equal number of dribbles, his exquisite vision and run through the channels gave the Italian team nightmares. His desire to attack and move up front would give the fans lot of optimism in the coming months. Remember Cesc Fabregas, certainly Ramsey looked like last night.

Napoli try to come back but Arsenal hold on

Benitez did try to give Arsenal something different bringing on the likes of Dries Mertens and Duvan Zapata late on but the home side sat back and soaked up pressure. There was a certainly a better shape of Napoli in the second half  with a more urgency. Till then however, the damage had been done in the first half. Much of the away side’s efforts were restrained to long range efforts. Lorenzo  Insigne did have two great opportunities but both them went way off the target. Much throughout the game Napoli’s midfield was non existant. A shocker for Behrami, Inler and Hamsik combined and they would want to forget this match as quickly as possible.

All in all, a disappointing performance from Napoli hardly testing the back line. Mertesacker and Koscielny were largely untested, Schezeny  had so little to do throughout the match. Arsene Wenger, did tactically outplay Rafa Benitez. Napoli were second best at everthing, every 50-50 tackles went to Arsenal., who were like the hot Chocolate Brownie served in a plate.  The game had been built up as Arsenal’s most  significant test this campaign and boy did they come out with flying colours.

Over to you! That was our analysis of the match, was there anything particular that you (tactically) noticed? Let us know by dropping a comment below.

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DISCLAIMER: Graphical Illustrations taken from Squawka.com

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  • Abhijit Bharali

    great piece as usual, brilliant analysis, keep it up