Arsenal 2 Napoli 0: Five things learnt in Champions League masterclass at the Emirates

Ozil shines as Wilshere is relegated to the bench for impressive victory

Click to follow
The Independent Football

1. This Arsenal side look and act like winners again

Nothing is ever won in October, of course, and it is too early to talk about ending the trophy drought. But it is safe enough to say that this is the best Arsenal team for five years. They played well at points in 2010-11, when they beat Barcelona in a night not unlike this one; but this is their best run since 2007-08, when they were five points clear with 12 games left in the Premier League but blew the title. Their manager, Arsène Wenger, said last week they had more of the “quality and experience” that wins titles than at any point since 2005, and he might be right.

2. Özil’s essential value shines in every transforming touch

Surely we are now far past the point where anyone would say Mesut Özil was a “luxury signing”. Tonight he proved yet again that his impact on this team is two-fold. He is a technically brilliant individual footballer, as he showed with his breathtaking cushion-volley to put Arsenal ahead. But he is an even better team player, not just for assisting Olivier Giroud’s goal, but for enhancing the qualities of those around him, catalysing his team-mates into something better and, like Eric Cantona 21 years ago, transforming his new side from one thing to another.

3. Wilshere may find himself edged into the wilderness

Wenger picked five midfielders and not one of them was Jack Wilshere. Modern football is a squad game, of course, and he had started Arsenal’s last six straight, excluding the League Cup game at West Bromwich Albion. No one would suggest he is being frozen out. But this was Arsenal’s biggest game of the season, their best team, it did not include Wilshere and for the first hour, it worked very well. Defensive pair Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini were more solid than Wilshere would have been, the attacking trio of Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Özil more incisive. And therein lies the problem.

4. Higuain’s absence blunts  all Napoli’s potential

It was clear enough why Napoli outbid Arsenal so dramatically in the summer to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Arsenal – he is far, far better than Goran Pandev. In Higuain’s absence, Pandev was up front and Napoli were desperately blunt from the start. They had almost no threat on the break, even with Arsenal pushing high up the pitch. Napoli are still a good team, with a good chance of progress, but the quicker Higuain gets fit  again the better.

5. Confident Ramsey claims his full right to roam

During the difficult years for Ramsey, his being stationed on the wing was seen as both a symptom and a cause of his malaise. Both the wrong choice for the team but also the wrong one for him, given his struggles. But he is a different player now, and produced a dangerous and subtle performance, switching from wing to wing. His dart down the right and perfect pass made Özil’s goal and he was intelligent and industrious throughout, tracking back when required and even taking full-backs on. His form is so good now he can turn his hand to anything.