Napoli have a Europa League mountain to climb after the 2-0 away defeat to Arsenal, but also wasted precious chances with Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne.
Carlo Ancelotti opted to use Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens together in the first leg of this Europa League quarter-final at the Emirates, though Raul Albiol was still out of action. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was able to start after a course of antibiotics due to illness, with Laurent Koscielny also passed fit, but Granit Xhaka wasn’t even on the bench.
It was a very aggressive start from the hosts, Kalidou Koulibaly charging down shots from Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Aaron Ramsey shots from the edge of the box in quick succession.
Mario Rui gave the ball away cheaply in midfield, sparking a trademark Arsenal quick passing move, as Maitland-Niles rolled across for future Juventus player Ramsey to sweep home with the inside of the boot.
The Partenopei repeatedly gave the ball away cheaply and were of course made to pay for it. Fabian Ruiz was caught napping by Lucas Torreira, who then turned him inside out and his shot was going well off target until it took a massive deflection off Koulibaly to wrong-foot Alex Meret.
Former Sampdoria midfielder Torreira celebrated by holding up a shirt depicting a friend of his wearing the Blucerchiati jersey who died in a recent car crash.
Alexandre Lacazette scuffed an Aubameyang assist after an error, this time from Jose Callejon, and Meret needed two attempts to get an Aubameyang strike under control. The goalkeeper stood his ground on a chip at the near post from ex-Milan youth team player Aubameyang.
When Napoli did get forward, Mario Rui fired over with his weaker right foot. There was a huge chance just before the break, with Callejon pulling back for unmarked Insigne to balloon well over from 11 yards.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were at least livelier after the restart, as Insigne scored from a Mario Rui wayward effort, but only after being flagged offside, while Petr Cech fingertipped a Koulibaly header over the bar.
Meret showed great reactions and strong hands to palm a ferocious Ramsey rocket away from relatively close range.
A smart ball over the top would’ve been ideal for Milik, but it only grazed the head of unmarked Mertens and Cech could capture.
Milik eventually did come on, but Meret was called into a double save on Sead Kolasinac and then fingertipping the Maitland-Niles follow-up out from under the bar.
Napoli should’ve scored the precious away goal on 72 minutes when Insigne rolled across for unmarked Zielinski, but he was late sliding in and prodded over from seven yards, one-on-one with Cech.
Ramsey then created almost a carbon copy, ballooning well over from 12 yards from a Henrikh Mkhitaryan pull-back from the by-line.
Substitute Adam Ounas tried to surprise Cech from distance, but Napoli pushing left themselves open to the counter and Aubameyang only hit the side-netting.
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli
Ramsey 15 (A), Koulibaly og 25 (A)
Arsenal: Cech; Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira (Elneny 77), Ramsey, Kolasinac; Ozil (Mkhitaryan 67); Aubameyang, Lacazette (Iwobi 67)
Napoli: Meret; Hysaj, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Callejon, Allan, Fabian Ruiz (Younes 82), Zielinski; Insigne (Ounas 82), Mertens (Milik 65)
Ref: Undiano Mallenco (ESP)
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