Arsenal couldn’t have picked a better time to put in their best away performance of the season. An Alexandre Lacazette wonder-strike of a free kick, stout defending, and the club’s second consecutive away clean sheet were more than enough to see off a nondescript Napoli side.
The only blemish on the evening was that Aaron Ramsey appeared to injure his hamstring, raising questions about whether he has played his last match in an Arsenal kit. Only time will tell. Complete and total speculation here, if (knock on wood) Arsenal make the Europa League final, he’s got 5.5 weeks to recover. Maybe he comes back for one more moment of Arsenal glory - we know Aaron Ramsey loves himself a cup final.
Everyone on the pitch for the Gunners put in an above average performance today. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka both had strong games in the center of the park. Xhaka’s passing was particularly good and a demonstration of how important he is to the way Unai Emery wants the team to play. Torreira did all the little things right, including cleverly earning free kicks in the defensive third to slow down the match and ease the attacking pressure.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles also stood out. Despite one or two youthful positioning mistakes, the youngster showed why Arsenal may not need to be in the market for a Hector Bellerin backup for next season. He tackled well, got into the attack, and may have covered the most ground of anyone on the pitch. Then again, the club may want to find a different backup for Bellerin if only to free up AMN to play more frequently and in other positions.
I wrote this after the 2-0 win at the Emirates last week, and I will say it again — the value of Laurent Koscielny’s return to the lineup and to top form cannot be overstated. He was again Arsenal’s best defender. A few years ago and before all the Achilles’ trouble, his strength was his pace, which allowed him to play aggressively and recover from mistakes. Since the injury and as he has gotten older, he seems to have matured as a player and changed his game. He has become positionally sound and is always in the right place at the right time to break up the play. While he and Sokratis are not a long-term solution at centerback because they are both on the wrong side of 30, they play well together. Arsenal could do much worse than getting another season at this level from them.
Arsenal will face Valencia in the Semifinals of the Europa League. The matches are on May 2nd and 9th. The Gunners are next in action on Sunday when Crystal Palace visit the Emirates.