Napoli – Arsenal (Champions League)
Arsenal head into Naples on Wednesday hoping secure a sit at last 16 table. Sure enough the odds are in their favour, but at this point qualification is still a possibility for the three top teams of Group F, including their hosts. That’s why it is called a Champions League. Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli are strong squads with excellent players that give us attractive football. Right until the last group stage match-day any of them can qualify, despite the fact Arsenal have already 12 points. As long as they avoid a 3-0 loss they’ll go through. With a single point the Gunners finish first and we all know that is no minor issue. An exciting night awaits.
Rafael Benitez says he’s confident his side will go on to the Champions League knock-out stage. All they have to is notch a win over the Gunners for 3 or more goals. And if Klopp’s men were to slip up at Marseille it would make their task a lot easier. As long as the chance is there is game on and the Italians will certainly give all they’ve got. To get this far they have defeat Dortmund in Italy (2-1) and Marseille both away (1-2) and at home (3-2). Also fell at the hands of Arsenal (2-0) and the German (3-1). They are yet to lose a point at San Paolo in this run and that is why Gunner’s qualifying won’t be an easy pick.
Napoli are currently third place in Italian Serie A, eight points behind leaders Juventus, and scored 39 goals so far in all competitions. On the other hand they’ve conceded 26, not exactly the goal difference you would expect from an Italian squad. Early, at the Emirates, Arsenal putted up quite a performance. Benitez had no chance mainly because he was then deprived of his top forward reference. This time Higuaín will be on and he’ll try to turn Koscielny’s night a living hell.
Probable line-up: Pepe Reina – Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Armero – Behrami, Inler – Callejón, Pandev, Mertens – Higuaín.
Arsène Wenger knows his squad could do with a couple of nights off in their overloaded schedule but going into such a fixture thinking “as long as we don’t lose big” is an accident waiting to happen. Still, Arsenal‘s next opponents in the Premier League are their closest followers and the results can shift the standings. But these are the games every player wants a part in. They will go above and beyond to face Manchester City and Chelsea. They’ll want to be the ones proving that the top of the table is Arsenal’s rightful place. That’s why a victory over the Citizens would have a double meaning. That Arsenal capable of mantain the advantage and can beat their fellow tittle contenders. Lose it and Wenger will have Pellegrini, and possibly Mourinho, breathing down on his neck.
It is possible that Aaron Ramsey gives way to Jack Wilshere on the starting XI, the only reason being the Welsh’s commitment to the game is beginning to weigh on him and Wenger really needs him entirely fit for Saturday. Bacary Sagna missed the Everton game due to a hamstring injury and is not expected to return just yet.
Probable line-up: Czszesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Arteta – Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla – Giroud.
Arsenal faced Italian teams 28 times before and lost only 6 of those fixtures. That should give them an extra boost. But this is a match that decides who will continue in the Champions League and I bet Napoli will fight for the chance of qualifying, no matter how slim, right until the very last minute.