Saturday, August 3, 2013

Arsenal 2-2 Napoli: Late Koscielny leveler salvages draw for plucky Gunners

After a sloppy first half in which Rafa Benitez's side scored twice through Lorenzo Insigne and Goran Pandev, the hosts rallied with second half strikes to secure a deserved draw 

Arsenal fought back from two goals down in its Emirates Cup opener to salvage a 2-2 draw with Napoli.

It was a typical Arsenal performance in that individual errors initially cost the Gunners, before a rousing late comeback staved off defeat and kept their tournament hopes alive.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring after a mistake from Carl Jenkinson, before Goran Pandev doubled the advantage midway through the first 45 minutes. Olivier Giroud scored a spectacular bicycle kick beyond

Pepe Reina, before Laurent Koscielny's downward header. 

A more than warm reception from a near sellout Emirates Stadium, gave Arsenal the impetus to start on the front foot, and Serge Gnabry, playing off the right wing, came within inches of opening the scoring in the third minute, bending his left-foot shot wide of Reina’s far post.

Five minutes later, Gokhan Inler’s delicate 30-yard pass to Insigne isolated Carl Jenkinson, who made a complete hash of his defensive header, merely nodding the ball behind him for the pint-sized Italian to latch onto. Insigne made no mistake from 12 yards out, sidefooting past Lukasz Fabianski for the opening goal.

The theme of the day continued in the 15th minute, as Kevin Friend adjudged Valon Behrami’s tackle in the box to be worthy of a penalty, as Kieran Gibbs tumbled - a decision that looked more than a little soft on replays. Reina though, came to Napoli’s rescue, plunging to his left to keep out Lukas Podolski’s spot-kick.

From there, Napoli settled before doubling the lead 20 minutes before halftime. Marek Hamsik tore through the center of the Arsenal midfield, exposing the backline, before slipping Goran Pandev in on goal. The Bulgarian rounded a hotheaded Fabianski, who came tearing off his line for no good reason, before clipping the ball into the top corner.

Pantomime boos greeted the introduction of Gonzalo Higuain, who moved to Napoli in July despite intense speculation linking him with a move to the Gunners.

The home side started the second half on the front foot with Jack Wilshere dictating proceedings and the 21-year-old embarked on a typically probing run, assisted by a neat one-two with Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the box. Wilshere, though, could only fire wide of the far post.

After a flurry of substitutions that failed to enliven a half that struggled to get going, it was left to Giroud to bring Arsenal back into the game. The Frenchman showed immense strength to hold off Paolo Cannovaro from a deep corner, and lovely skill to turn an overhead kick at goal that took the merest of nicks off a motionless Bacary Sagna and beyond Reina.

With 18 minutes to play, Rafa Benitez looked to shore up the defense, introducing former Liverpool man Andrea Dossena, who promptly got himself booked for a poor tackle out wide and for the most part it looked as if Napoli would shut the Gunners out.

However with just a few minutes left on the clock, Mertesacker headed Mikel Arteta's free-kick at goal, drawing a splendid reflex save from Reina, but the ball remained in play, allowing the excellent Koscielny to thunder home the rebound.