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Lacazette silences Naples and his critics but Ramsey set for Arsenal heartache

7:06 am AEST 19/4/19
Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal 2018-19
The Gunners booked their spot in the Europa League semi-finals with a 1-0 win against Napoli, but lost their departing midfielder to injury

It was almost the perfect night for Arsenal. Almost.

Given their away record this season, there were many who believed Unai Emery’s side would wilt amid the fevered atmosphere of the Sao Paolo stadium. They did the exact opposite.

This was not the Arsenal we have seen on the road this season, the team that crumbled in Rennes or were humbled in Borisov. This was an Arsenal side led by the inspired Alexandre Lacazette, who took the game to Napoli and deservedly beat them 1-0 to reach the Europa League semi-finals for the second successive season.

It was a night to silence some of the doubters, to restore even more belief on their travels. But it was also a night tinged with regret due to an injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey in the first half.

The Wales international, who had started the game very well, immediately pulled up clutching his hamstring after stretching for a loose ball and was replaced by Henrikh Mkhitaryan after half an hour.

Arsenal have five games left in the Premier League this season, potentially eight overall if they get past Valencia and reach the Europa League final in Baku on May 29.

If Ramsey’s hamstring injury is a serious one, it could be that he has played his last ever game for Arsenal. For a player who has done so much for the club over the past decade, that is not the way he should be bowing out before his move to Juventus.

But that will all unravel over the coming weeks. For now Arsenal can return to London very proud of the way they performed in one of Europe’s most hostile grounds.

Prior to Arsenal’s visit, only Juventus had beaten Napoli on their own turf this season. The Italians beat Liverpool at home in the Champions League group stages and drew with Paris Saint-Germain.

But Emery’s side showed a confidence to their play that we have rarely seen this season outside of north London. Instead of wilting in the atmosphere, they stood up and excelled in it.

And not for the first time, it was Lacazette who played the leading role.

Arsenal revealed their player of the season candidates this week, with the French striker one of six players up for the award.

There are some who will argue the case for the likes of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira or even Bernd Leno, but it will be a surprise if anyone other than Lacazette tops the vote.

He enjoyed a fine first season in England following his move from Lyon in 2017, but there is no doubt he has gone up a level in his second campaign.

He made the difference in Naples, silencing the home crowd moments after Ramsey had limped off to all but finish the tie off with a fabulous free-kick which he bent round the wall from 25 yards.

It was Lacazette’s 16th goal of the season and arguably his most important. It was also one that made a mockery of the claim that he only performs at the Emirates Stadium.

Despite his exploits this season, there are some to point to the fact that the majority of his goals come at home. Last season, only three of his 17 were scored away, while prior to tonight, only four of his 15 had been scored outside of north London.

But this was the biggest of nights, when Arsenal needed him most and Lacazette stood up and delivered - silencing Naples and his critics in the process.