Mesut Ozil pulled the strings for Arsenal as they cruised to a 2-0 victory over Napoli at the Emirates.
The club’s record signing converted Aaron Ramsey’s cross with a sublime finish after just eight minutes to put Arsenal ahead and then set up Olivier Giroud soon after for the second goal of the evening.
From there, Arsenal were comfortable and take a commanding lead at the top of Group F as the only side with a perfect record after two matches.
It was a bright start by Arsenal, who started with England midfielder Jack Wilshere on the bench as Mikel Arteta came into the team along with fit-again Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky, while teenager Serge Gnabry, who scored in the win at Swansea on Saturday, was among the substitutes.
The Gunners swept into the lead on eight minutes with a goal of the highest quality. Giroud, on his 27th birthday, laid the ball out to the right as Ramsey darted clear. The Wales midfielder strode towards the bye-line before looking up and clipping a perfectly weighted pass back towards the penalty spot. Ozil arrived on queue to cushion an instinctive half-volley past former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina to open his Arsenal account in some style.
Before Napoli – missing injured Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain, who was one of Wenger’s summer targets – could mount a recovery, they trailed 2-0 on 15 minutes. Giroud latched on to a poor throw-in to find Ozil on the right. The German playmaker, signed from Real Madrid, waltzed past his markers and into the penalty area before cutting a pass back to Giroud, who had continued his run on through to the six-yard box and the France forward promptly crashed home his sixth goal from close range.
Benitez had talked about the need to calm the euphoria following Napoli’s home win over last season’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund on Matchday One. But for the former Liverpool boss, who guided Chelsea to Europa League success while interim manager last season, it was very much a case of damage limitation before his side had even got a chance to take the match to the Gunners, who continue to impress with every performance as Ozil revels in his role as the heartbeat of the side.
Napoli had tried to raise their game before the break and defender Miguel Britos sent a towering header over the Arsenal crossbar following a corner. However, any thoughts of a recovery were short-lived as Arsenal were soon back on the offensive, with Ramsey and Ozil the main agitators of the Italian’s overworked rearguard.
Napoli captain Marek Hamsik, sporting a magnificent Mohican haircut, weaved into the Arsenal area but could not get a shot away before the ball rolled to the goalkeeper.
Arsenal came out of the blocks quickly for the second half, but this time found Napoli’s defence regrouped – no doubt following a few choice words from Benitez – and no real space to exploit as both full-backs tucked in.
With just under half an hour to go, Wenger replaced Rosicky with Wilshere, but the tempo of the match had already long dropped.
It should have been 3-0 on 75 minutes when Arteta’s flick-on through a crowded box was met by Laurent Koscielny, but his snapshot was straight at Reina from point-blank range.
With Dortmund beating Marseille, the group is now very much Arsenal’s for the taking, with a double-header next against the Germans. On this evidence, Wenger’s men could just well be ready to make a serious tilt at going one better than Jurgen Klopp’s side in 2014.