Napoli Preview: One Last Push For Progress


A point might not even be needed but frankly, nobody wants to rely on Marseilles with their wretched European form. It might be the night when they spring to life, taking advantage of Dortmund’s descent in recent weeks, a spiralling of results with which Arsenal are all too uncomfortably familiar at this time of year.

That is probably the opening paragraph to the post had last season’s autumnal form been replicated but it hasn’t which says encapsulates the changes of the past twelve months. Arsenal travel to Naples for a decisive Champions League safe in the knowledge that they are in control of their own destiny and comfortable that Arsène can rotate the squad yet still put out a side that is capable of taking the point they need to qualify for the second round. Times change indeed.

I don’t think much rotation will take place. It is the kind of match ripe for Theo Walcott to return, his pace will force his markers to be less adventurous as well as offering Arsenal a snap outlet for counter-attack. Wenger has used the England international sparingly in recent weeks, ensuring his comeback has been measured and not risk-laden; planning for tonight as his first start, perhaps? Rotation, of course, is not half the squad in one go but managing fatigue and injuries, certainly in midfield where his talent pool is deep. Some occasions permit changing half the team, testing Wenger’s maxim that two or three is the maximum permitted before the stability of the side is negatively impacted.

And the settled side, no matter how forced the situation, is one of the reasons for Arsenal success this season. A settled back four and midfield has been crucial, especially the former which Wojciech Szczesny pinpointed as the key plank upon which the top of the Premier League and Champions League has been founded. Knowing what teammates are going to do, where they will be, that they will support has bred confidence in passing and scoring, manifesting in the ultimate team goal by Wilshere or Sunday’s snaffled by Özil; support and movement. And plenty of that will be required tonight, Napoli have their own motivation, knowing a heavy win will put them through at Arsenal’s expense. A hard working team performance by the visitors will be needed to ensure that they are not pushed onto the back foot too soon.

It is always a tricky situation for a team, knowing a draw is good enough. To play for that seems an inherently risky strategy, one where a defensive bent to a performance is necessary at the expense of the attack. Fall a goal behind and the balance shifts, equalise and revert to type. Perhaps it is why that policy has been on Arsenal’s part not to do so; the side which won in Istanbul, Marseilles and Dortmund was not set for a draw; it was sent out not to lose which is a different mentality and a point Laurent Koscielny underlined,

We showed some good character and were very strong in defence, then had the opportunity to score, which we took. “Tomorrow it will be like that again

For this evening, it would be easy to look back at the match between the two sides at The Emirates and think slotting Flamini into midfield would be enough of a change. Wenger has noted there are no “major” signs of fatigue, a subtlety that notes some players looked knackered on Sunday hence the triple substitution midway through the second half. Flamini will no doubt return to the side tonight and it is a move that Kevin Campbell believes the Frenchman is crucial to any success this season,

They’ve always been good going forward – it’s always been in transition, when they lose the ball, that it’s been difficult but Flamini prides himself on being that defensive shield

It is going to be a busy evening; Napoli have to score three times and will look to put early pressure on, probing for weaknesses with a fervour that would make aliens blush. Crucially, Arsenal have to avoid a repeat of the Milanese collapse and are more than capable of doing so. Wenger used to speak of resilience a lot, as if he was trying to convince the players that they possessed that characteristic when in truth, it was sporadically shown at best. Now it is displayed regularly, it is barely mentioned. Interestingly, Campbell thinks the best is yet to come,

They went to Dortmund and won and Dortmund made the final last year. Why not? A lot of it is belief and hitting form at the right time, I don’t think Arsenal have hit their top form yet either.

In the same article, the spirit of Copenhagen in 1994 was evoked by Alan Smith; the odds that night were more heavily in the Italian side’s favour, Parma were I suppose, the Napoli equivalent of that era. Arsenal are a level or two above the team which won that night. Perhaps that is the cautionary note for this evening? Arsenal are favourites to progress but nothing is impossible.

Whatever line-up Wenger fields will be good enough on paper to achieve that aim and I would expect it to be:

Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey Flamini; Walcott, Özil; Giroud

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

237 thoughts on “Napoli Preview: One Last Push For Progress

  1. @JJ they might have beaten us 3-0 though if we had rested our big guns? Mind you Bendtner could have started in a wrestling match like this…. He seems like he’s gotten his engine back and works like crazy nowadays…

  2. JJ

    Well on tonight’s evidence it’s thank fuck wenger didn’t play the second string, we would have been knocked out.

  3. how the hell did Marseille manage to not win ONE game though or draw ONE game! Thats just pathetic! and Zenith went through with 6 points?? Thats pathetic too…

  4. Wingerless system doesn’t seem to work any more. Theo could’ve made difference today. Really disappointing result.

  5. Second? I could not care less. The main thing is we are through, with some prize money and not in the Europa league. The next tie may be tough, but we are not going to win this thingy anyway, so better to concentrate on the league sooner.

    Also, good if this game helps Arsene to realize that we need strengthening,

    Theo not playing is strange though. May be still ill?

    I would take a point on Sat, but I’m prepared or the worst.

  6. Good example of the downside to central players playing wide. We we are under sustained pressure, we struggle to pin the opposition full backs in their own half. This leaves us unable to break out.

  7. Seems we had no Choice but to possibly sacrifice dropping points on sat to go through…..the sooner we get knocked out of the cups the sooner we can go on a league run and win the thing.

    I’d take the prem and getting knocked out of all the cups early.

  8. Awful second half after a solid first 45 minutes, really disappointed we didn’t make it happen tonight, each year we miss out finishing top of our group and more often than not we pay for it – just feel we’re a much better team than Napoli and with a bit more confidence could have controlled the match. Through the group of death though, which is excellent.

  9. moe,
    something about being on the back foot for two matches and how it will affect us at the weekend..
    there or there abouts..

    onto the weekend..theo to have a massive game..give giroud some much needed support, create some space for the midfield to play…

    i’ll be happy with a draw..

    i think we can beat chelsea by the way they are defending but theres always the wenger v mourinho factor..

    i’ll settle for another draw..

    still top…then we kick on and pull away again..

  10. goonerandy

    Exactly my point. It forces play inward towards the middle, even when we do go wide it is our fullbacks who cross or attack from wide. So what happens when the fullback’s cross is cut out? Well there’s no one to cover for him and he has to race back. I noticed this alot in the Everton game, they exploit the space left by our marauding fullbacks.

    On the other hand, if we had the normal wingers, they attack and even if they lose the ball, there is no danger to our fullback because he is in position unless he was overlapping.

  11. Arsenal are becoming complacent……….the game against everton, tonight’s game are clear signs of this. Second place in the champions league just means playing one of the big teams and added unnecessary pressure in february in the thick of a congested PL fixture list.

  12. To be fair it was an extremely tough group. It has cost us 5 points in the league, and will cost another 3 on Sat I’m afraid.

    But that’s the thing with CL. It’s more a matter of prestige for Arsene to be there, although he realizes more than anyone else that at this phase of our development we should be rather aiming at the domestic league. CL is for big experienced squads.

  13. agree with dukey..
    when your top of your league by 5 points who gives a fuck about the cups..

    at this stage i want the league over anything..personally..

    if your in manutds position which has been our position in recent years then your talking about the cups but when your at the top of your league then bollox who you get in the next round of whatever..

    just dont lose your next league game..

  14. So, City go into our match with them off of a high winning at Bayern, and we go into it after narrowly squeaking through while hardly rotating our main difference makers. Should make for an interesting match this weekend.

  15. I don’t think it is complacency as much as it is fatigue and the need for Theo and Podolski to come back firing on all cylinders.

  16. JJ

    Every year we try and go for everything then end up getting knocked out of everything then with no distractions we then go on a league run….so why not just play the toddlers in all our cup games and go all out for the league.

  17. hmm.. we really need Theo back as you guys say, and Poldi and Cazorla back to his best..
    And i simply HATE the Flamini- Arteata axis…. I much rather pair one of them with Wilshere or Ramsey.. But i guess he will play them both in next match to shield the back four?

  18. If Ozil is really fatigued he could play Cazorla in middle, he’s always best when he is there.. very direct..

  19. Priorities in CL.

    1. Make as much money as possible.

    2. Avoid sinking into the Europa League.

    3. Avoid injuries.

    Well done. Move on.

  20. The players settled for 2nd place in a group that we needed just a point to win. Mertesacker pretty much admitted as much, and seemed frustrated. The question is why they didn’t care enough? I’m frustrated with them and with AW.
    What next – the yearly challenge for 4th place “trophy”?

  21. 5 man midfield does work
    we were only talking the other night about buying another striker/or not buying him because the current system has been working so well..

    which is an extent…but its also true that our fixtures have been kind to an extent…when you play the less technical sides you can tippy tappy the fuck out of them..
    but when you play the bigger sides you need more need more need more natural finishers which is a problem we have sometimes if giroud starts by himself backed up by a load of tippy tappers..

    and now we have two massive league definining games back to back..we need more in our armoury than just passing it in triangles through the middle for giroud to hold it up for a midfielder to hopefully smash it in..

  22. Well whoever draws us for the next match will not be happy at all…
    Same goes for the team that draws City one should think…

  23. Point at the Etihad would be excellent, it stops City from gaining on us and Chelsea can only knick two. Going to be tough though, apparently the team might have to fly straight to Manchester from Italy if they don’t make their flight.

  24. I still think it was a good idea to start Arteta and Flamini and playing deeper and looking to hit on a counter attack. Only problem with team selection was not using Walcott on the right IMO. We needed another goal threat and more threat on the counter attack. Cazorla has been struggling with his entire game and giroud has not been finishing well recently and rosicky wide right is not really as voting threat.

    Like Miami, I wonder what’s really going on with Walcott.

  25. I’m not worried about the game this weekend, at least not yet. But, I would like some answers from the manager as to thinking for the match today because I just cannot fathom what the desired result ultimately was. The exclusion of Theo again must bring in to question his status with the team, if an injury why not say so. Theo has made the bench 5 times since returning from injury and has a total of 42 minutes of game time.

  26. JonJon says:
    December 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Absolutely agree.

    Tippy tappy and beautiful football works as long as the other team isn’t pressing so aggressively as Everton or Napoli, when teams do that you HAVE to have an outlet, something to make them scared of pressing so high up.

  27. I think with Theo it was about ball retention, in a high pressing game like that, maybe Arsene felt he needed more control of possession and players who can play in tight spaces. It does have merit but on the other hand he doesn’t need to be involved in the possession too much, just provide a danger on the wings and score.

  28. you could tell from the team selection we went to keep possession and you could tell from the first minutes the plan was to pass it backwards and frustrate..

    it kinda worked, until benitez changed it at half time..then we had a game on our hands and AWs answer was to bring monreal on to play support instead of an actual striker..

    we never in a million years went there to win..

    but it doesnt matter because we didnt need to win we just didnt need to get beat 3-0 and because we knew that we played like shite and almost did..

    if the everton game wasnt a kick up the arse then this one should be….

    but i take comfort in the fact a champion side has bouncebackability and im hoping to see that in the next two fixtures..

  29. I think it was a good kick up the backside, but not as bad as some people make it out. It wasn’t a very good performance but we will bounce back against city.

  30. Has anyone seen a better view on Mertens going down after the ‘tangle’ with Monreal that led to the Ramsey push and yellow card? To me it looked like an unbelievable dive but there were just two camera angles shown on the coverage I saw.

  31. what are guys fretting about?we are through, aren’t we?the last time we got to final, we played juventus and madrid on the way if I still recall. if must win it,you will play a big team along the way. i feel PSG,Athletico and madrid will all want to avoid us, while we can beat bayern and barca. unleash theo,rambo,sagna,jack on city on saturday and we might take a point or three

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