Napoli Preview: Let Experience Count
On Tuesday, there were some surprisingly results in Matchday 6 and one can look no further than Manchester City’s unlikely victory over Bayern Munich despite being two goals down in just 12 minutes. Manchester United also ended their poor streak at home with a victory over Shakhta D0netsk.
Today, the highly exciting Group of Death is about to reach it’s climax with only two spots available despite the fact that three teams have pushed themselves to the limit to secure qualification.
While Olymique Marseille has been swept by the roadside losing every group stage game they’ve played this season, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli have secured vital results against each other that has set the tone for a grand finale.
With 12 points, the Gunners are meant to have been celebrating qualification to the Round of 16 for the umpteenth time under Arsene Wenger but a 3-0 defeat to the hosts tonight, coupled with a Dortmund victory over L ‘OM would see the Gunners play Thursday night football in the latter stages next year.
In October, the Gunner put up a scintillating first half performance against the Italian outfit and kept them at arms length in the entirety of the second half to record a comfortable 2-0 victory. Despite their not-too-impressive away form in the competition, SSC Napoli has won both home fixtures against Dortmund and Marseille, and they would be hoping that their fans can make it an intimidating atmosphere for their illustrious English opponents.
However, the Italians aren’t in good form leading to this game as they have just secured only one win in their last five matches in all competitions. They’ve also conceded eight goals in their last three games, including in surrendering a 2-0 lead to only draw 3-3 at home to Udinese on Saturday. This poor form also includes three losses in a row as well.
Under previous gaffer, Walter Mazzarri, Napoli employed a 3-4-2-1 tactical setup which allowed wing backs like Andrea Dossena and Christian Maggio the license to support a fast attack that had the likes of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Many of their key stars departed in the summer but Rafa Benitez brought in a flurry of stars that have done their bits to help the team’s cause this season.
The former Real Madrid trio of Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon and an Arsenal target last summer, Gonzalo Higuain, have been vital cogs in the Napoli machine. Even if Higuain missed out on the first leg defeat at the Emirates, he has scored 10 goals in 17 games for his new club and he was have to be watched closely by Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny because of his predatory instincts in front of goal.
Napoli will have problems breaching Arsenal’s impregnable defense as the Gunners have conceded just two goals in their last 10 matches, which is a very impressive record. The defensive pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker has seen many lethal strikers like Luiz Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku et al drop into mediocrity on the night before rampaging other teams afterwards.
The Gunners are still in pole position to qualify from the group but they have to make their experience count. They were faced in a somewhat similar situation when Dortmund left the Emirates with all three points but Arsene Wenger’s army went to Germany, fought hard for each other, showed maturity and resilience before leaving with three priceless points. The Gunners record in Italy is equally impressive having won four of their last seven visits there.
To injuries, Napoli are hoping Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who missed Saturday’s 3-3 draw against Udinese with a muscular injury, will recover in time to play. Club captain and influential talisman, Marek Hamsik, would also miss the game as well as Valon Behrami and Camilo Zuniga.
For Arsenal, the usual suspects, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo are still out, Bacary Sagna is still having problems with his hamstring while Lukas Podolski isn’t fit enough to start yet. eanwhile, Jack Wilshere could be forced to sit out the game after picking up an ankle knock during Arsenal’s recent draw with Everton in the Premier League.
Shown below are the possible starting lineups,
It’s certainly going to be a nerve-racking encounter and we hope that the Gunners would have enough in the tank to secure qualification to the next round.
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