Europa League Quarter-Final 1st leg
Arsenal 2 Napoli 0
Arsenal came through a slightly nervy second half to preserve a handy two goal lead to take to the Stadio San Paolo for the second leg of next week’s tie.
They could have been out of sight by halftime, such was their dominance, which brought goals from Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira.
But ex-Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti – now in charge of the Neopolitans – galvanised his ailing troops and they posed far more problems for the Gunners after the break. It was fortunate their enthusiasm saw them caught offside on numerous occasions.
The Arsenal opener on 14 minutes from Ramsey was a thing of beauty. A goal that seemed to belong to the very best Arsene Wenger years.
It was full of swift movement and one-touch passing, with Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Ashley Maitland-Niles all involved in slicing up the Napoli rearguard with a delicacy and precision the Italians seemed powerless to prevent.
Very soon, the Italians could be suffering more punishment at the hands of the excellent Ramsey, who is shortly off to sample Serie A with perennial champions Juventus. But with each game that takes the Welshman nearer the end of his Arsenal career, the better he seems to get.
He was involved in the build-up and there at the end of it, passing the ball into the net, giving the move the outcome it deserved.
Arsenal’s relentless pace and pressure forced errors from harassed opponents and Torreira unsurprisingly doubled the lead after 25 minutes.
The Uruguayan robbed a dithering Fabian Ruiz before striding forward and clipping a shot which deflected off Kalidou Koulibaly, totally wrong-footing keeper Alex Meret.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang darted forward to expose more space in a bedraggled defence and squared to the unmarked Lacazette on the edge of the area. The Frenchman made a hash of it, completely miscuing, yet it hardly seemed to matter as the Gunners continued to carve up the visitors at will.
Napoli do possess genuine firepower of their own, though, and ought to have pulled a goal back just before the break – skipper Lorenzo Insigne ballooning over after a perfect clip back into space from Jose Callejon on the byline.
Ancelotti’s men looked far more interested at the start of the second half, and they missed an even better chance to get back into the tie, when Insigne rolled a cross in from the right and a stretching Piotr Zielinski put it over, with the goal at his mercy.
Arsenal played more on the counter-attack in the second half, but still had many chances to all-but wrap up the tie.
Ramsey went close to making it 3-0 with an angled shot that Meret did so well to claw away and he also scooped a great chance over the bar from eight yards after good work from sub Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Aubameyang also missed the chance to make next week’s second leg so much more comfortable. As it is, a second successive Europa League semi-final seems well within their compass.
Line-up: Cech – Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal – Maitland-Niles, Torreira (Elneny 77), Ramsey, Kolasinac – Ozil (Mkhitaryan 67) – Aubameyang, Lacazette (Iwobi 67). Subs not used: Leno, Mustafi, Suarez, Guendouzi.