Arsenal were second best for much of the match, but multiple changes from both sides and a lackluster performance for much of the second half meant that the Gunners managed to pull even ... ok, ok, let's face it. The problem was set pieces. Napoli just couldn't defend a set piece to save their lives, and in typical Rafa Benitez fashion, it cost them the three points.
The partenopei took the lead after just seven minutes, thanks in part to a defensive mishap from Carl Jenkinson. Gokhan Inler sent up a wonderful ball from the back for Lorenzo Insigne to latch on to, but Jenkinson, being roughly a foot taller, got his head their first. He couldn't control the ball, however, and it fell perfectly for Insigne, who neatly fired past Łukasz Fabiański.
Throughout the first half, Napoli were pulling the Arsenal defense to pieces. The midfield trio of Insigne, Marek Hamsik and José Callejón constantly changed positions behind Goran Pandev, pulling the Gunners' defense out of position. The distinctive counterattack returned under Rafa as well (thank goodness) and the home side weren't up to the challenge of stopping that rapid attack.
So it was really no surprise, then, that Napoli found a second goal in the 29th minute. Hamsik sent through a lovely ball up the right channel, taking advantage of the acres of space Arsenal foolishly left around the Slovak. Fabianski ran out in an attempt to intercept the ball, but Pandev got there first, neatly rounding the keeper to dink the ball into the back of the net.
It was 2-0 in favor of Napoli at the halftime whistle, with Arsenal really having only one good chance in the first half, a sharp strike from Lukas Podolski that went just wide. The German could've cut Napoli's lead down before 20 minutes were up, however, when referee Kevin Friend awarded an extremely soft penalty. Valon Behrami tapped against Kieran Gibbs' shin inside the area, and Friend blew the whistle. As if to ensure justice was served, Podolski put in a weak shot which Pepe Reina easily saved.
When the second half resumed, it all started to go downhill for Napoli. Gonzalo Higuaín came on to replace Pandev, although the more interesting change was Christian Maggio coming on to take the place of Callejón -- he just didn't look quite right in the band of three, although it still feels like we'll see him at right back this season. For Pipita's part, well, give him some time. He needs to settle in to this league, and I'd like to see how he does with a midfield trio of Mertens - Hamsik - Insigne.
The game really shifted, though, when Hamsik made way for Dries Mertens with 25 minutes left to play. Nothing against the Belgian, but it's Marekiaro that's the master of this side, and if he's not on to orchestrate play, Napoli suffers. Their attacks pack less punch and it's easier for the other side to take control.
And a lack of control lead to Napoli conceding set pieces. And when your side has an average height of maybe 5'6", it's not always easy to defend in a dead ball situation. Arsenal's first goal came from a corner and looked quite impressive, with Olivier Giroud sending in an overhead kick that would've been more fantastic had it not taken a deflection off Bacary Sagna.
Then, in the 87th minute, the Gunners had their equalizer. Per Mertesacker climbed over Paolo Cannavaro to get his head on the end of a free kick from Mikel Arteta. Reina pulled off a wonderful save, but alas the ball dropped for Laurent Koscielny. Reina could do nothing to stop the header this time.
So that's how it ended, all square at 2-2. Coming up tomorrow, Napoli face Porto in the early match at the Emirates. Now let's all cross our fingers and hope that conceding in the final ten minutes of the match isn't a new, twisted version of Mazzarri-time, a wonderful new concept to be known as "Rafa-time."*
*Chelsea fans, I don't want to hear it.