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Napoli 2 Arsenal 0: The Gunners Drop to Second After Abject Performance

Olivier Giroud - Napoli 1 Arsenal 0: match report

Giroud, like most of his teammates, put up poor showings

San Paolo (Champions League)

Napoli: Higuain (74′), Callejon (90′)

Player RatingsMatch HighlightsWenger’s Press Conference

The stage was set for the final set of fixtures in everybody’s favorite Group of Death as three teams had everything to play as qualification beckoned to two sides that deserved it. Arsenal, the team with the best away record in the group, locked horns against Napoli, the team with the best home record.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that shared the spoils with Everton as Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini, two inspired substitute in the weekend, returned to the starting XI with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey making way.

Napoli began the game with more urgency and Gonzalo Higuain was flagged offside twice in the space of five minutes or so. The Arsenal defense was tore open with a diagonal ball for Goran Pandev as he beat Per Mertesacker for pace but his shot was easy pickings for Wojciech Szczesny.

Mesut Ozil lost the ball in midfield allowing Pablo Armero to surge forward with the ball. The Colombian fullback sent a through ball to Higuain but Mertesacker, once again, used his long legs to great effect as he anticipated the ball. Arsenal hit Napoli on the break with Ozil teeing up Flamini who in turn located Olivier Giroud on his left. The French striker blasted a goal-bound shot but Rafael made a good save.

Napoli continued to ask questions of the Gunners’ defense with Dzemaili blasting the ball over. The defense was split open with Christian Maggio on the clear but he lobbed the ball over Szczesny and the goal post, wasting another chance for the hosts. Laurent Koscielny showed his defensive prowess but anticipating the ball before launching an attack but he was stopped in his tracks.

Mikel Arteta found Flamini that waltzed with the ball before getting into a well-baked Napoli sandwich of two defenders. Everyone thought it was a foul as the Flamster was clearly impeded but the ref had other ideas, much to the disgust of the Arsenal players. Late in the first half, Higuain found himself on the clear but he launched his shot into orbit.

Arsenal came out of their shells a bit in the second half with Carl Jenkinson teeing up Ozil but the German’s shot was wide off the mark. The Gunners then worked hard to launch a smooth attacking play but when the ball found itself in Jenkinson’s path, the young fullback was clueless on what to do with it and another good attacking move was thwarted.

13/14: Napoli v Arsenal - Carl Jenkinson

Lorenzo Insigne flicked a brilliant ball to Armero that managed to find his way past Jenkinson before getting one-on-one with Szczesny but his weak shot was saved by the Polish goalie. Insigne continued to threaten the Gunners from the left and he threaded a neat ball to Armero that sent a cross towards Dries Martens. The Belgian blasted a shot that was blocked by Kieran Gibbs.

Rosicky and Arteta worked in tandem to create a chance for Giroud but he was offside. With the ref’s whistle already blown, Giroud continued to dally on the ball and got a yellow card for his stupidity. The manager then brought on Ramsey for the ineffectual Santi Cazorla.

Jose Callejon worked his way into the box before dinking the ball for Higuain but the Argentine’s shot from an acute angle went over. Marten lofted the ball into Arsenal’s danger area and it was punched to safety by Szczesny, when the ball found its way into Arsenal’s box again, Szczesny commanded his area with another good save.

Ramsey noticed Giroud in front of him before attempting to lob the ball over the top but the French striker wasn’t in the same wavelength with his Welsh teammate. With Napoli pressing hard for that all-important goal, it finally arrived when Armero found Higuain that exchanged passes with Callejon before firing a left-footed volley that sailed past Szczesny.

I guess we should have bought him afterall

Wenger replaced Rosicky with Nacho Monreal to offer some protection on the left hand side but Arsenal’s woes were compounded when Arteta earned himself an early bath for a silly bookable offence when he was already walking with a tight rope. That red card took the wind off Arsenal’s sails and it was going to be a big struggle from there onwards.

Hi-res-455183343-referee-viktor-kassai-shows-the-red-card-to-mikel_crop_north

Armero darted forward with the ball and drilled an inviting cross into the heart of Arsenal’s area but no Napoli player capitalized on the chance. Koscielny almost deflected Maggio’s effort into his goal but Szczesny was alert to make a good save. Monreal made a foray forward and crossed it to Giroud but the Frenchman attempt on goal was laughable.

Right at the death, Insigne lofted the ball over the defense and Mertesacker was caught in No Man’s Land as Callejon reacted first to chip the ball over Szczesny to make his two.

At that point, I feared for the worst but fortunately, Arsenal had time on their side as the ref ended the proceedings after the restart. 12 points is usually more than enough to win a Champions League group but Napoli are going to plunge into the depths of Europa League football despite winning four games in this group.

In the other encounter, Dortmund’s late win ensured that they had done enough to end as group winners which ultimately means that Arsenal could face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or the defending champions, Bayern Munich.

The Gunners needed a draw to top this group but they were a goal away from playing Thursday night football.

They should get ready to face the music when the results of the draws come out on Friday.

Sayonara.

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Napoli 2 Arsenal 0: Post-Match Thoughts and Player Ratings

13/14: Napoli v Arsenal - Carl Jenkinson

The Gunners put themselves in a precarious situation after losing to Napoli in Italy but despite the defeat, Arsene Wenger’s side has qualified for the Round of 16 yet again. The boss made two changes from the side that drew with Everton as Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky made it to the starting XI in the places of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.

Arsenal 4-2-3-1 football formation

Listed below are Gooner Daily’s ratings for Arsenal’s disappointing defeat against SSC Napoli;

Wojciech Szczesny: The Pole has been piling up clean sheets on a consistent basis in recent weeks and was certainly in confident mode in the buildup to the game. On the night, he made good saves and dominated his area well but he was blameless for both goals conceded. 7/10

Carl Jenkinson: You can’t fault this lad’s effort but he offered nothing to his team from an attacking perspective. There were many times when the Gunners built up attacks but when the ball found its way to Jenkinson, he was a bit clueless on the next decision to take, which always ended up with a Napoli defender stealing the ball. 6/10

Kieran Gibbs: Like Jenkinson, Gibbs didn’t waltz forward to contribute to the attack, but he remained steadfast in his defensive duties. 7/10

Laurent Koscielny: The French defender’s performance in the first half was a joy to behold but in the second half, he looked out of sorts a bit. 7/10

Per Mertesacker: The BFG’s pace was exploited in the game and he won’t be happy with his overall performance. 6/10

Mathieu Flamini: The Flamster played like a man possessed by some crazy spirit in the first half as he showed his tenacity and barked instructions to his teammates. He also made some forward runs was supplied a neat pass to Giroud that split the defense open. 8/10

Mikel Arteta: The captain of the night worked hard for his team but his sloppiness earned him two bookable offenses that left the ref no choice but to brandish his card to the Spaniard on two occasions. I must say that he let his team down. 6/10

Tomas Rosicky: The Czech maestro pressed further up the pitch but failed to make his mark on the game. 6/10

Mesut Ozil: The German schemer was a peripheral figure in the game and for a player of his immense quality, you’d be expecting better. 6/10

Santi Cazorla: The Spaniard’s inconsistency has been alarming this season and it was on show yesterday as he offered nothing for his team in the final third. 6/10

Olivier Giroud: The French striker gave his manager something to think about in the January transfer window as he put up another lethargic showing and even earned himself a silly yellow card for dallying on the ball after the whistle was blown. 6/10

Nacho Monreal: Did what he’s good at – protecting Gibbs and running around for his team. 7/10

Aaron Ramsey: Tried to be inventive when he came but he didn’t fare any better than his teammates from an attacking perspective. 6/10

Do you agree or disagree with Gooner Daily’s post match thoughts and match ratings?

Feel free to share them with your comments below.

Sayonara.

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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.

 by OmarMomani

Klopp, Wenger and Benitez struggle for the ultimate formula

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,

Napoli 4-2-3-1 football formationArsenal 4-2-3-1 football formation

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.

Sayonara.

Gooner Daily has been nominated for the Best Sports blog category in the 2013 Nigerian Blog Awards. Please vote!

You can download the Gooner Daily  BlackBerry App to receive notifications on your Smart Phone when a post is published.

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