On Napoli, the Best XI and Watford

The win over Napoli was arguably the best team performance in a couple of seasons, maybe even back to the 2017 cup final win over Chelsea. A dynamic attack with Lacazette and Aubameyang supported by an ‘in the mood’ Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey left the Italian defence bewildered and stretched.

2 – 0 was a fair reflection of the game; we should have scored more in the second half but so too Napoli late in the opening 45 minutes. In all honesty, a two-goal advantage with a clean sheet is better for us than 3 – 1. I do fancy our chances of scoring away from home although stopping Napoli scoring is another matter.

We’ll have a strong defence on show; Sokratis managed to avoid a yellow card and thus a suspension for the second leg. It’s a matter of fitness now for both he and Thursday night’s defensive star, Laurent Koscielny, with the trip to Watford on Monday the potential pitfall. That said, Petr Cech deserves credit for a strong performance as well.

Ramsey’s goal was a sublime example of the team play the XI is capable of. Napoli were undone by an unstoppable interchange of passing involving Lacazette, Maitland-Niles and Özil, all threaded together by Ramsey before he finished the move he started with an interception.

The second from Torreira benefited from the good fortune the performance deserved. Deflected in, UEFA calls an own goal for Koulibaly apparently. That’s harsh on the defender; in old money, it was a deflection and god knows what the suits are trying to achieve with that kind of decision.

It was the night we hoped for when Atletico Madrid pitched up in last season’s semi-final. This time, let’s hope we can get the second leg right.

Cut and Thrust

Unai Emery’s biggest decision is team selection over the next two games. He got it horribly wrong at Everton, not just the personnel but the conservative tactics as well. We’re in a position in the Premier League where we must win at Watford to stay in the race for fourth as well as knowing the task in Naples.

Naturally enough, there were immediate calls to play the same line-up in every game. If only it were that simple. Thursday was the seventh time the quartet of Ramsey, Özil, Lacazette and Aubameyang played together; it was the seventh win.

There are various reasons why they haven’t featured but on Thursday, Napoli dominated possession and we enjoyed the thrust of the counter-attack. The reality of most of our games is those roles are reversed. It begs the question whether we should alter our gameplan to force the opposition to take more control of the ball.

We’re getting into the home and away form conundrum. Part of the problem is the modern footballer isn’t physically capable of playing every game; the pace of the game is too demanding. Looking at the quartet of players mentioned, the only one who has suffered a major injury or illness so far this season is Lacazette. Little wonder we don’t field the best XI each time.

That is only part of the problem. Monday will, I’m sure, see Watford look to bully us. There’s a sense that we’re vulnerable to that approach in away games. Mustafi returns to the side and offers a renewed vulnerability on the right. Koscielny will be looking to Monreal, who looked out of sorts on Thursday, to pick up the pace once again.

Positive Thoughts

A positive will be the return of Torreira and Xhaka. The midfield was bitier and snappier with the Uruguayan on Thursday and Xhaka will improve that as well. Possession has got to be better in domestic games, as well as the distribution. We’ve been ponderous at best and desperately need to move the ball faster. That mentality was evident on Thursday night and must be repeated at Vicarage Road.

So, there’s plenty of reasons to look forward to Watford with renewed confidence. Whether that is misplaced is another matter.

’til Tomorrow.

24 thoughts on “On Napoli, the Best XI and Watford

  1. Not sure why Emery is adam ant on changing our style of play and formation away form home. playing a team full of sideways passers doesn’t work. just play the best players. he has to start both auba and laca and please if he starts with elneny and gundozi I’m going to throw up.

  2. “on Thursday Napoli dominated possession”
    Surely that can’t be right, Yogi.
    Or did my ancient eyes deceive me?

  3. Without wanting to sound too harsh on Nacho(which clearly means I’m going to be)….he had a shocker on Thursay night.
    Napoli targeted his side with great effect.
    I think he’ll be off in the summer-he’s been a brilliant signing and a great servant,but when we’re looking at stepping up our game and strengthening our team,he has to be one of the first on the ‘out’ list(in my opinion).
    Torriera was on form,and as much as I like Guenzoudi,they are poles apart with what they each offer the team.
    I do think we’ll score in Naples as well YW-if only we could get the goal just before half time…..we’ll see eh.
    Thank you for the write up Yogi

  4. Typical that just as Ramsey starts to make the doubters eat humble pie he’s off in the summer. Without that dynamism our midfield looks rather one dimensional, throw in a lack of goals from the alternatives and you can see why allowing this to happen is one of our more damaging contractual screw ups in a long list.

    The alternative is a solid midfield and more prolific wide players a la the early Wenger era. Overmars, Pires, Ljungberg are all excellent examples. Which would mean a back four and a new LB if we lose Monreal (Kolasinac only works as a wing back).

    Either way that’s a pretty big rebuilding job in the summer and a tough ask for a manager who will will be starting only his second season at the club.

  5. andy1886,

    To be fair, and I agree Ramsey has been superb, this is just the way Ramsey’s career has gone. A good 5 match run of some sort of form followed by 1-1.5 months out injured….this time he is just off. I appreciate the fact that he(along with possibly Kos) have decided to put in their best performances now.

  6. “Ramsey, Özil, Lacazette and Aubameyang played together; it was the seventh win.”

    Some statistics should not be ignored.

    Excellent column today.

  7. Against Watford I would go with a midfield of Xhaka and Torriera and then against Napoli play the exact same side that featured in the home leg.

    For Watford I would go:

    Leno
    Jenk—Mustafi—–Sokaritis—-Sead
    Xhaka—–Torriera
    Mhkitaryan—-Guendouzi——Iwobi
    Aubameyang

    A little rotation but still have the likes of Ozil, Ramsey, Lacazette on the bench.

  8. Great post Yogi

    I certainly like the Laca, Pea, Ramsey Ozil lineups better then our other options. The problem is that I don’t know if we have tried that combination away from home so the 7 game win streak with that line up may be misleading. For the last 2 seasons we win most games at home no matter who we start and we seem to struggle on the road no matter who we start.

  9. Dukey

    There Is a role for a ball possession player and a sideways passer such as Elneny or Ozil or Mkhitaryan but the problem is its best not to have more then 1 in the line up at the same time. More then that and the result is the sideways passing dominates the game.

    Andy

    I agree with C on this one. I am also a fan of Ramsey’s dynamism rather then the technical ball possession players. However the reason there were so many Ramsey doubters and he divides opinions is because he has not been playing like this for the majority of the last 3 years. Same thing with Ozil who we talk about all the time. Players don’t divide opinions when they are playing up to the level of expectations.

  10. Mkhitaryan, Guendouzi and Iwobe were in most of the games during the 22 game unbeaten string earlier in the season and Ramsey did not start many of those games. So you could have made an argument that we should go back to the things that brought that home and away unbeaten run. That type of analysis is often misleading.

  11. Bill,

    The fact that he has played in what many of us thought was his best position has a lot to do with it. Remember Wenger playing him on the right side all the time? I can’t help but think that had he played in an advanced central role more often there wouldn’t have been any argument about his value to the side. Injuries I’ll give you, but ability, I think that he’s always had the capacity to put these performances in when played in the right position.

  12. C,

    Sokratis is out sadly so back 3 with Mustafi more likely
    Hope Xhaka returns for height as much as anything

  13. Arsetralian,

    Then Mustafi and Kos it is. This might be a game that suits the aggressive style of Mustafi. Watford loves to play direct to Deeney ans Mustafi is good in the air and can deal with that. Mustafi tends to struggle when he has small pacey quick players he is dealing with.

  14. Andy

    Perhaps you are right. The debate on the blog was always Ramsey vs ozil in the more forward central role. There was a strong sentiment that Ramsey being more forward was hurting the team because it forced ozil to drop deeper and limited his effectiveness. Ramseys influence was one of the excuses used to try and explain why ozil was struggling to create goals and assists. You always thought that was backwards and real problem was ozil being more forward was limiting Ramsey’s game and we should have been playing with Ramsey in the more forward position the whole time. Perhaps you were right all along.

  15. andy1886,

    Also he has needed the right partner, Lampard at Chelsea was able to thrive because he had essien, or makalele bossing it and doing all the defending. With torreira he has that player that allows him to do his thing. Rambo is excellent off the ball . Constantly getting into the dangerous spaces and pulling players apart. He makes things happen, unlike someone like elneny or gundozi who are maybe technically better but offer little imagination going forward.

  16. Dukey,

    I think our whole midfield has missed that partner you speak of. When Ozil arrived and he and Ramsey were brilliant together, they had Arteta just sitting and breaking up play, since then they have lacked that. Ozil and Ramsey have always complimented eaxh other BUT without that DM and Arsene not forcing tactics on Ramsey, he was often caught out of position. Now with that partner and with both Ramdey and Ozil finding that form with Emery’s tactics, we are seeing both players do what they do best. Ozil roaming, dictating, and creating with Ramsey making those runs but also using his work rate for the good of the team with Emery forcing tactics and better positional play.

    Our mate Bill thinks tactics and coaching is overrated but the very fact that Emery is getting the best out of both Ozil and Ramsey in their best positions shows Bill is wrong. Its not just Ozil tracking back but more, sitting on the oppositions pivot allowing Torriera and Ramsey to just their engines to close down everything else.

  17. C,

    I agree. I think torriera, Rambo and ozil is a great midfield. Shame Emery doesn’t fancy Rambo (or even ozil). He just better have a bloody good ace up his sleeve to show us fickle fans so we can quickly forget about Rambo.

  18. nicky,

    First half was more even. Think we had over half possession up til we got the 2nd goal. 30% in second half. Although I don’t know what happens to time waiting for play to resume after offside decisions ,that must have been 20 minutes itself. I can’t imagine they will be THat poor again.

  19. Dukey,

    I have trust that he will and if not a direct replacement for Ramsey that he brings in a top winger. We have the 3 of them until at least the end of the season (Ramsey leaving and most people hope Ozil leaves) so lets use them to win the Europa League crown. Europe is less physical and the refs don’t let players get butchered like in the PL and I think that suits Ramsey and Ozil.

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