Classy Arsenal reach Europa semis
Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick calmed any nerves as a defensively stoic Arsenal beat Napoli 3-0 on aggregate to reach the Europa League semi-finals.
Lacazette’s 36th-minute strike, a 25-yard curling effort which caught Alex Meret on the wrong side of his goal, put Arsenal effectively four goals up on their hosts, who did not trouble Petr Cech enough to even hint at mounting an unlikely comeback in Thursday’s quarter-final second-leg tie.
On a night when Napoli had let fans into their San Paolo stadium nearly three hours before kick-off, instead of inspiring their team, the partisan atmosphere seemed to intimidate the Italians, who managed only one shot on target before half-time when Jose Callejon was denied by Cech’s legs following a rapid counter.
But Arsenal were denied a perfect opening 45 minutes after losing Aaron Ramsey to injury with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
After half-time, Meret kept Napoli’s faint hopes alive by denying Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a seemingly open goal with a stunning save, while Arkadiusz Milik wasted a fine chance, sliding too early to meet Mario Rui’s cross and firing wide when the ball rebounded off his midriff on one of the few occasions Napoli breached an impressive Arsenal backline.
Arsenal progress to face Valencia, one of manager Unai Emery’s former sides, in the semi-finals, with the prospect of a first European final in 13 years well within sight.