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Mesut Özil the key to Arsenal's crushing opening period against Napoli

The German's intelligent sideways movement compensated for Arsenal's lack of natural wingers

Paul Gilham

The wild, kamikaze nature of Arsenal's summer shopping disguised Arsene Wenger's true transfer targets but the exaggerated pursuits of Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney in particular hinted at the manager's preference for a versatile attacker that could play off Oliver Giroud, or upfront on their own.

More on Özil and the GunnersArsenal blog The Short Fuse

Mesut Özil is not a forward but he is the perfect foil for Arsenal's attack, and so it proved here in the blistering, enthralling start that his side made to this Champions League contest. Beyond the quick passing and intelligent movement that had Napoli chasing shadows there was a boastfulness and booming confidence to Arsenal that blew Benitez away. The Spaniard's rejigged Napoli - now firmly a 4-2-3-1 team after years of three at the back under Walter Mazzari - couldn't handle the slick combinations of Arsenal's five central midfielders.

Wenger has always deployed playmakers out on the flank and encouraged them to drift inside, but whereas that is normally counterbalanced by Theo Walcott on the right flank it was instead central midfielder Aaron Ramsey who was positioned on that flank. As expected he drifted inside, as did Tomas Rosicky from the opposite side, but crucially, it was complemented by the movement of Özil, who drifted from flank to flank and worked the width of the pitch.

He may have been the nominal central playmaker but he swapped roles with ease, and his particular focus on drifting towards the right helped Arsenal find space in wide areas - with both goals coming from cutbacks driven from the right by-line.

For all the improvements that Arsenal's existing players have made this season - with the form of Ramsey and Giroud especially eye-catching - it has been the arrival of Özil that has truly transformed Arsenal. It has been easy to overstate and overrate the impact of his first few performances but the intelligence and craft he displayed here showed that his presence can make Arsenal a genuinely thrilling, and importantly, genuinely effective footballing team.

His first goal for Arsenal, and the first goal of this match, was a ruthless, thundering finish, but his influence ran deeper: his reverse movement to the flanks in contrast to Rosicky and Ramsey's movement inside dragging the Napoli pivot upfield. For a coach that prides himself on organisation and structure Benitez would have been utterly dismayed at the ease in which his tightly drilled banks of four fell victim to Arsenal's integrated running.

In truth many of his minor tweaks at the outset of this encounter were sensible: the decision to play a high line, and defend narrow, made sense in regards to the absence of Walcott or any wide players, but collective changes cannot disguise individual errors, especially ones as erroneous as Juan Zuniga's ludicrous decision to pin a throw-in at the unaware Marek Hamsik, promptly leading to Arsenal's lightning-fast counter-attack for the decisive second goal.

It was symptomatic of a shocking performance for the Colombian where he was especially vulnerable to Arsenal's fluid attacks in the opening twenty minutes. In many ways, the lack of a natural Arsenal right-winger made his job even more difficult: he seemed completely unsure of whether to move forward and close down Bacary Sagna (compounded by Lorenzo Insigne's lack of discipline ahead of him) or whether to not pick up a marker and instead just hold his line alongside the rest of the back four.

In the end he did neither and Arsenal did everything right. They will not play this well consistently throughout the season - indeed, the tempo dropped significantly after Giroud's goal - but the evidence here showed that it may just be enough to blow away opponents with concentrated periods of intense, ferocious attacks, with the mercurial Özil leading the charge.

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