Arsenal vs. Napoli Preview: Time to Gain Control of the Group
Two of the most in-form teams in Europe would clash together in what would be one hell of a pulsating encounter, as Arsenal hosts SSC Napoli with a place at the summit of the group the ultimate prize for the victors of tonight’s game. Arsenal began their Champions League adventure with a difficult trip to the Stade Velodrome in the French riviera and they emerged victorious. Napoli on the other hand, hosted last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, and had enough in the tank to see out the German juggernauts.
Following good transfer business in the summer, both sides are reaping the fruits of their new recruits and both teams are currently on the summits of their respective local leagues. Arsenal’s record signing, Mesut Ozil, has already supplied four assists in the Premier League and the Gunners’ 2-1 win over Swansea sent them two points clear of Liverpool and Tottenham.
Napoli has gained considerably from the services of their star striker, Gonzalo Higuain, that has netted four goals in five appearances for the club. Following their Goran Pandev-inspired victory over Genoa, they lead the Serie A alongside AS Roma with the defending champions, Juventus, not far out in third place.
Arsenal have only lost four times in 18 matches to Italian opposition since 2000 and should be confident of a result. The last was a 4-0 defeat to AC Milan in Italy in the quarterfinals in 2012. They did manage to restore pride in the return leg at the Emirates thanks to a 3-0 scoreline as Koscielny, Rosicky and Robin van Persie all scored.
As recently as August, Napoli locked horns with Arsenal at the Emirates Cup and they lead with goals from Lorenzo Insigne (did you see his free kick against Dortmund) and Goran Pandev but goals from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny salvaged a draw for the hosts. Only four managers in this season’s Champions League have won the competition, and Arsene Wenger’s opposite number, Rafa Benitez, is in that illustrious class.
The last time both managers clashed in the Champions League, it was a rather painful affair as Arsenal drew 1-1 at home to the Reds in the first leg of the 2007/08 quarterfinals before a rather excruciating defeat at Anfield that sealed the Gunners’ fate.
Abou Diaby had equalized for the Gunners in the first half but after a goal from Fernando Torres put Liverpool ahead again, Theo Walcott made a world famous dash in the heart of the Liverpool rearguard before feeding Emmanuel Adebayor for an easy tap in. While the Gunners were basking in the euphoria of a potential semifinal berth, Kolo Toure blatantly fouled Ryan Babel in the box, leaving the ref no chance but to point to the spot and Steven Gerrard obliged. Babel added salt to Arsenal’s wounds with a fourth to put the game beyond doubt.
While the Gunners would have half an eye on Higuain, they also have to be mindful of Napoli’s skipper, the mohawked Marek Hamsik, that has been a creative force as well as the versatile Lorenzo Insigne, that has been one of the bright sparks of their campaign thus far. To injuries, Napoli has a full squad to select from with the only injury concern being wingback, Christian Maggio, that’s nursing a knee problem. Arsenal are still without Theo Walcott (stomach), Santi Cazorla (ankle), Yaya Sanogo (back), Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee) but Tomas Rosicky will be fit enough to make it to the bench.
To team news, I would expect an unchanged lineup from the side that was victorious against Swansea. Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen are on their way to full fitness but the Gunners can make do without their services as they have proved all season long. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
I would expect both lineups to look like this,
Wenger has spoken about the counter-attacking threat Napoli poses, and his players will have to be on alert, because avoiding defeat in this fixture is key, as the Gunners are bracing themselves up for a double header with Dortmund in Matchdays 3 and 4.
It’s time to gain control of the group.
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