x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Mesut Ozil just oozes class as Napoli cut down to size by Arsenal

The Germany international was inspirational as the Gunners went clear at the top of Uefa Champions League Group F with a 2-0 win over Napoli.

Mesut Ozil, right, scores Arsenal’s first goal past Pepe Reina, the Napoli goalkeeper, at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night. The Germany international also created the second for Olivier Giroud. Gerry Penny / EPA
Mesut Ozil, right, scores Arsenal’s first goal past Pepe Reina, the Napoli goalkeeper, at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night. The Germany international also created the second for Olivier Giroud. Gerry Penny / EPA

Arsenal 2

Ozil 8’, Giroud 15’

Napoli 0

Man of the match Mesut Ozil

LONDON // It is early, of course, far too soon to be making rash claims or hailing this as the best Arsenal team since they reached the Uefa Champions League final in 2006, but the signs are there.

The arrival of Mesut Ozil has sent a jolt through Arsenal, giving them not only a magnificent player but also instilling the self-belief that has been so desperately lacking in recent seasons. At the moment they are playing with a mixture of joy and ruthlessness that can be both intoxicating and devastating.

If they became a little sloppy in the second portion of the first half, it was understandable. Who would have failed to have not got carried away with the excellence of their play in the opening quarter of the game?

There was pace and verve and imagination, and it brought two goals that were each wonderful in their own way. The nature of the opposition only underlined the quality of Arsenal’s play,

Napoli are second in Italy’s Serie A, having dropped just two points this season. Two weeks ago, they comprehensively beat German league leaders Borussia Dortmund. It is true that Miguel Britos and Camilo Zuniga both had shockers, but at least in part, their panic was the result of Arsenal’s play.

The Gunners’ opening goal, scored after eight minutes, was a deceptively simple move that began with a ball down the line from Bacary Sagna. It ended with a first-time finish from Mesut Ozil, his first goal for Arsenal, and it included a deft flick from Olivier Giroud and a cutback to the edge of the box from Aaron Ramsey. Last season, Ramsey struggled when asked to play wide, leading to derision from some fans and the excuse that it was not his natural position from others.

Given how well he has been playing this season, shifting the Wales international out of the centre seemed a risk, but Arsene Wenger, 17 years and a day after being appointed Arsenal manager, suddenly has the golden touch again: the quality of his cross, the awareness required to see the angle and the approach of Ozil, were vindication.

The second goal, which came seven minutes later, was less aesthetically pleasing, but spoke of the impact of another of Arsenal’s summer signings, Mathieu Flamini. A free transfer he may have been, but he has added bite and aggression to the back of midfield, giving Arsenal back some of the snap that always underlay the pretty football a decade ago.

It was the Frenchman who intercepted Britos’s mis-hit clearance, dabbing the ball to Giroud, who nudged it outside to Ozil, ran on to the edge of the six-yard box, and swept in the German’s low cross after he had skipped his way to the by-line.

Again, it was hard not to reflect on the change in a player who never fully convinced last season. The unspoken thought of what Arsenal would do were Giroud to be injured always lurks, but he now looks a versatile and accomplished centre-forward.

Six goals in 10 games this season tell their own story.

If there was a disappointment, it was that the euphoric football of that first 20 minutes could not be sustained. The second half, in fact, almost felt anticlimactic as Arsenal, with the game won, dropped their intensity and Napoli seemed content to accept a relatively honourable defeat.

It took a fine save from Pepe Reina to prevent Laurent Koscielny adding a third, but the game had long been settled by then.

But what will live in the memory is what happened in that first 20 minutes, when Arsenal scaled heights undreamt of at the Emirates Stadium in the last two or three seasons.

They have lost just one of their last 21 games since the beginning of March, and look an extremely serious force again.

sports@thenational.ae