Napoli 0-1 Arsenal (0-3 Agg): Report, Ratings & Reaction as Lacazette Stunner Seals Gunners Progress

?Arsenal cruised through to the semi-finals of the Europa League after a superb and disciplined performance against a toothless Napoli side.

The Gunners started the game on the front foot, but it was the Italian side who had the first real opportunity of the game when Kalidou Koulibaly ignited a quickfire counter attack before Jose Callejon’s low drive was smartly saved by Petr Cech.


Shortly after Aaron Ramsey was forced off with a hamstring injury, Arsenal grabbed a crucial away goal in the 36th minute through a stunning 25-yard free kick from Alexandre Lacazette, which left Alex Meret totally stranded in the Napoli net.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have put the tie to bed early in the second half, but his point blank effort was brilliantly turned over by Meret. It ultimately didn’t matter however, as Napoli never looked like to breach Cech’s goal, and Unai Emery’s side saw the job through with little concern.

Unai Emery


NAPOLI

Key Talking Point

I Partenopei were clearly confident that they could pull off a historic European comeback, with fans packing out the San Paolo stadium two hours before kick off.

With the Serie A title gone, this was Carlo Ancelotti’s last chance to claim a trophy in his debut season, and the Italian made the bold decision to drop Dries Mertens from his starting XI.

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It didn’t work.

Napoli knew the extent of their task, but their frustration became apparent fairly quickly, and they quickly resorted to petty fouls and appealing for penalties that were never going to be given.

Their evening was nicely summed up by Lorenzo Insigne, who having missed a couple of chances, was taken off, and decided to stand next to the bench looking grumpy for a good ten minutes. A bad night all round for the men in blue.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Meret (6); Maksimovic (5), Chiriches (5), Koulibaly (7*), Ghoulam (6); Callejon (5), Allan (6), Ruiz (6), Zielinski (5); Milik (4), Insigne (5).

Substitutes: Mertens (5), Younes (5), Rui (6).


STAR MAN – Kalidou Koulibaly

It’s not difficult to see why the Senegalese international is being linked with a major move away from Naples.

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At times, he looks like the only player on the pitch who is capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and taking command, and his dominating presence at the back would make him a feared centre-half in any league.

However, despite his best efforts, including a couple of bursting runs from the defence to try and get something going for Ancelotti’s side, Koulibaly just couldn’t drag his well below par teammates to his extremely high level.


ARSENAL

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Key Talking Point

Judging by Unai Emery’s team selection, the Spaniard had clearly decided that the best form of defence would be attack, especially with playing two strikers. The north London side were carrying a two goal advantage into this clash, so Gunners fans would surely have been slightly concerned with regards to just how high their defensive line was.

However, three-time Europa League winner’s brave selection paid off, and Lacazette essentially killed the tie with a superb free kick.

This was an ultimately comfortable evening for Emery’s side, and the way that they brushed aside the second best team in Italy in such a superbly disciplined way speaks volumes about how far this team has come in the manager’s debut season.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Cech (6); Maitland-Niles (8*), Sokratis (7), Koscielny (8), Monreal (7), Kolasinac (8); Torreira (7), Xhaka (7), Ramsey (6); Aubameyang (6), Lacazette (8).

Substitutes: Mkhitaryan (6), Elneny (6), Iwobi (6)


STAR MAN – Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Although Lacazette may take the plaudits for his brilliant goal, Maitland-Niles showed incredible maturity to help guide the Gunners to their second consecutive clean sheet away from home.

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The 21-year-old put in a tireless display at wing back to not only make Arsenal’s back five as secure as possible, but was also a constant option for the attack on the right side due to his relentless desire to get forward and set up Arsenal counter-attacks.

The England Under-21 international will have a bright future at the Emirates, and it’s performances like this that will make the youngster one of the first names on Emery’s teamsheet for many years to come


Looking Ahead?

Napoli will look to consolidate their runners-up spot in Serie A when they host Atalanta on Monday, before travelling to Frosinone the following Sunday.

Arsenal’s quest to finish in the top four continues on Sunday when they host Crystal Palace in the Premier League, before a trip to Molineux to face Wolves.

The Gunners will play Valencia in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday 2nd May, before the return leg a week later.

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Chelsea 4-3 Slavia Prague: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Blues Reach Semi-Finals With Dramatic Win

Chelsea laboured to a 4-3 victory against Slavia Prague in their Europa League quarter-final second leg at Stamford Bridge, booking themselves a spot in the semi finals with a 5-3 win on aggregate against the Czech side.

After the dissatisfaction of the weekend’s defeat to Liverpool, the Blues were eager to bury some league demons with a strong showing from the off in Europe, and they duly raced out of the traps with fervour.

Pedro

This produced results inside the first five minutes, with Pedro opening the scoring after some wonderful link up play with first Cesar Azpilicueta and then ?Olivier Giroud, who sweetly played it in for the Spaniard to dink over the goalkeeper.

He was then saved some severe blushes when another fine flowing move involving first Giroud, and then ?Eden Hazard, who played it nicely across goal for the winger to finish, somehow ended with the Spaniard striking the post with the goal gaping – only for it to cannon into Prague defender Simon Deli and bounce back into the net.

Perhaps afraid of repeating the trick, Pedro turned down the chance for a brace after latching onto a wonderfully weighted ball from N’Golo Kante, instead playing it off to Giroud for the Frenchman to net his 10th goal of the competition.

The visitors then restored some dignity, as Tomas Soucek nodded in a free header at the back post, only for Chelsea to hit their fourth of the night just 63 seconds later. Hazard again played the ball across the face of the goal, with Giroud taking the first unsuccessful bite of the cherry before Pedro had it in the back of the net once more with a scuffed finish.

However, after a first half of plenty for the Blues, Peter Sevcik found it within himself to produce not one, but two cracking strikes into the top-left corner inside the first 10 minutes of the second period to spark the tie back to life.


Ultimately though, it was to no avail, and the Blues stayed firm to reach their 14th European semi final.


Chelsea

Key Talking Point?

It wasn’t as good a game as that vaunted Champions League clash between Tottenham and Manchester City on Wednesday night, but it was almost as ridiculous.

Maurizio Sarri,Eden Hazard

There was no VAR to join the party, but there were still seven goals. Almost all of them were ridiculous, in either a good or a bad way. For Maurizio Sarri though, it will have been a frustrating night. For once, the Blues managed to take their chances with some conviction in front of goal, yet they still found a way to make it unnecessarily uneasy for themselves in that second half, with concentration lapses far too common.

A semi-final beckons, but more care will need to be taken against Eintracht Frankfurt if the club are to escape the cruel grips of Europe’s lesser league next season.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Arrizabalaga (6); Azpilicueta (7), David Luiz (5), Christensen (6), Emerson (6); Kante (7), Kovacic (6), Barkley (5); Pedro (8*), Giroud (8), Hazard (7).

Substitutes: Willian (6), Jorginho (6), Hudson-Odoi (N/A).


STAR MAN – Despite that inconceivable miss in the first half, Pedro played a key role in almost everything good the Blues did in the opening stages. He was his usual scampering self, harrying defenders with gusto and launching onto attacks with glee. 

Sure, his finishing was, err, hit and miss, but he was still the difference maker, and his considerable European experience was vital in seeing out a confounding second period.


Looking Ahead

After booking their spot in the semis, ?Chelsea can now look forward to a break of sorts, with their next Premier League outing not scheduled until Monday at Stamford Bridge against Burnley. Following that, it’s the crucial trip to Old Trafford to play top four rivals Manchester United.

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Jurgen Klopp Opens Up on Champions League Reunion With Philippe Coutinho Ahead of Crunch Semi

Jurgen Klopp has admitted that Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho’s return to Anfield in the Champions League semi-finals will be ‘special’ for both the players and the club. 

Klopp’s Reds stormed past Porto on Wednesday night, beating the Portuguese side 4-1 to seal a routine 6-1 aggregate win. 

Suarez left Merseyside almost five years ago after the Reds’ last title challenge, while Coutinho headed for Catalunya in January 2018 in a move which made him the third most expensive footballer of all time. 

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He said, quoted by ?The Metro: “For them [Coutinho and Suarez], for these two boys, it’s very special. For us, it’s special. They are both Liverpool legends, that’s brilliant.”

Despite the undeniable brilliance of the two, Liverpool will go into the tie with a real chance of reaching their second European final in two seasons – this time without Loris Karius between the sticks. 

The man standing between the Reds and the Wanda Metropolitano is Lionel Messi, whose two goals on Tuesday night killed any chance Manchester United had of facing their old Premier KLeague rivals in the semis. 

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Klopp admitted that he was grateful to have a little time before having to think about stopping the Argentine, adding: “Thank God I don’t have to think about that tonight. I have a few more nights to think about that. So many teams tried [to stop Messi] but nobody really did it. We have so many jobs to do before we meet Barcelona though. Let’s first play these games and we will see.”

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Virgil van Dijk Admits He Does Not Know How to Stop Lionel Messi in Champions League Semi-Final

?Liverpool centre back Virgil Van Dijk has conceded he does not know how he can stop Barcelona’s Lionel Messi when the two sides come face to face in their Champions League semi final next month.

Van Dijk is considered by many to be the best defender in the world, but even he appears unsure how to tackle the threat of the Argentinian superstar, such is Messi’s ability to conjure moments of pure genius when scoring and creating goals for his team.

Barcelona’s No.10 was once again the difference as they progressed 4-0 on aggregate in their quarter final against Manchester United, scoring twice at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night to take the game away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

Lionel Messi

And, after Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Porto on Wednesday night confirmed their place in the last four to face Barça, Van Dijk was asked by Viasport how he plans to keep Messi quiet over the two fixtures – the Dutch international answering: “I don’t know, we’ll see. 

“It’s about doing it all together, it’s never one versus one, it’s never just me against a particular striker. It’s going to be very hard and I think he’s the best player in the world but we’ll see.”

The dates for the semi final were confirmed by UEFA early on Thursday morning, with Liverpool set to travel to the Nou Camp on Wednesday 1st May before Barcelona head to Anfield for the return leg the following Tuesday.

The battle between Van Dijk and Messi will be crucial in determining who will progress to the final at the Wanda Metropolitano on June 1st with the victors knowing they will have a fantastic opportunity to lift the Champions League this season.

Whichever team wins the tie will go into the final as favourites, and will face either Tottenham Hotspur or Ajax, both of whom caused major upsets by beating Manchester City and Juventus in their respective quarter finals.

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Ajax Star on Spurs’ Summer Transfer Radar Ahead of Unexpected Champions League Semi-Final

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is keen on signing Ajax star Donny Van de Beek this summer, although he is set to face a fight to land the Dutch midfielder.

Van de Beek has been a key part of the sensational Ajax side which has swept aside some of Europe’s elite this season on their way to the Champions League semi final, where they will face Pochettino’s Spurs, and scored in their 2-1 win over Juventus in Turin on Tuesday night.

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Spanish newspaper Marca have claimed that Tottenham have Van de Beek’s name written down ‘in capital letters’ as they look to lure him to north London in the upcoming window, although European giants Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Arsenal are all reportedly interested in the 22-year-old.

During the January window, French news outlet L’Equipe claimed that Paris Saint-Germain were interested in his services and that Ajax would listen to offers of around €20m. 

That figure already seemed unrealistically low in January and is certainly sure to be a lot higher now, with Van de Beek playing a vital role in Ajax’s victories over Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League.

The Dutch side may be forced to sell some of the players who have taken them on this fabulous run to the last four of the world’s most elite club competition (see: Monaco, 2017), but they are not going to let their players go cheap.

Frenkie de Jong

Van de Beek’s midfield partner Frenkie De Jong has already agreed to join Barcelona this summer for an initial fee of €75m, while captain Matthijs de Ligt would also fetch in the region of €80m if he were to be prised away at the end of the season.

While Van de Beek is not quite at their level, Ajax are still sure to request at least €50m to part ways with him, especially with the calibre of teams who are after him.

Tottenham will have the perfect opportunity to review the playmaker at close hand when they face each other in the semi final in two weeks time – the ideal time for Van de Beek to show Spurs and the rest of Europe what he is capable of on the biggest stage once again.

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