Arsenal navigated their way through a difficult Europa League quarter-final with an accomplished display at Napoli, winning 1-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate.
Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick ten minutes before half-time proved decisive in Italy as Arsenal produced one of their best displays of Unai Emery’s reign.
Although they led 2-0 after the first-leg, getting a result at the famously intimidating Sadio San Paulo was never going to be easy for a side with a dreadful recent away record, yet the Gunners showed plenty of nous and maturity to book a spot in the semi-finals, where they will play Valencia.
AS IT HAPPENED: Napoli 0-1 Arsenal
AS IT HAPPENED: Chelsea 4-3 Slavia Prague
Although there is no quieting the vociferous Napoli support, the Gunners started well and were keen to play on the front-foot.
They couldn’t make the most of three set-pieces, or manufacture any chances, but their intent unsettled the hosts.
Despite that start, it was the hosts who had the first real chance. Saed Kolasinac lost control of the ball on the edge of Napoli’s area.
The visitors broke and centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly showed his quality as he carried the ball to the edge of the box and found a perfectly weighted pass to Jose Callejon. The winger’s first-time effort was repelled by the feet of Petr Cech.
Napoli drew confidence but Arkadiusz Milik could only head wide following a clipped ball into the box from Piotr Zielinski. That miss soon came back to haunt them.
Shortly after Aaron Ramsey limped off with a hamstring injury, Lacazette’s wonderful free-kick put the tie to bed.
He was fouled, picked himself up and bent the ball into the top-right corner from 25-yards out. There were question marks over Alex Meret’s positioning, but that takes nothing away from the strike.
Lorenzo Insigne volleyed wide and Zielinski had a shot blocked before the break as frustration grew for Napoli. The boos at half-time and Insigne’s yellow card for kicking the ball away said it all.
And Arsenal should have put the result even further beyond doubt less than three minutes after the break.
Mkhitaryan found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the box and the striker had time to pick his spot with only Meret to beat. But he tried to lift it over the keeper, who was able to push it over the bar.
Napoli continued to huff and puff without ever testing Cech on a nightmare evening for the hosts. The closest they came to scoring was when Nacho Monreal nearly turned the ball into his own net. Thankfully Cech was there to save him from the embarrassment.
For Arsenal, who had won just three of their previous 14 away games in all competitions, it was the perfect Thursday night: a victory, clean sheet and progression to a European semi-final in Emery’s first campaign in charge.
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