October 01, 2013; 19:45 BST
Arsenal FC host Napoli at the Emirates tomorrow in a Champions League clash which according to Arsene Wenger can have “great bearing on who qualifies”.
Arsenal have started the season in fantastic form and currently lead the Premier League table. The Gunners have recovered brilliantly from their opening day loss at the hands of Aston Villa and have gone on to win nine matches on the bounce in all competition. They started their Champions League campaign with a good and solid performance away to Marseille and a positive result in this match against Napoli can go a long way in improving their chances of qualifying from this group of death.
Arsenal are coming into this game on the back of a 2-1 victory against Swansea, which extends their amazing run of results away from home. The Gunners will come with lot of confidence in their ability in this match, but will know that Napoli will be a tough opponent.
Like Arsenal Napoli have made a fantastic start to their season under new manager Rafa Benitez. Napoli are one of the four sides in the Serie A, who have made an unbeaten start and are currently second in the points table having won five of their opening six matches.
They started their Champions League campaign with a massive win against Borussia Dortmund at home and will look to repeat that performance against the Gunners at the Emirates. They are coming into this game on the back of a 2-0 victory over Genoa, courtesy of a fine brace from Goran Pandev.
Interestingly, both these sides met only two months back in the Emirates Cup pre-season tournament. Napoli were held to a 2-2 draw in that game despite taking an early lead in that match.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Arsene Wenger has a long list of injured players to contain with ahead of this fixture. Yaya Sanogo, Abou Diaby, Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain are all injured and out of contention for this game. Tomas Rosicky seemed to have recovered from his injury and could feature on the bench in this game. There are some concerns about the fitness of Jack Wilshere, but the Englishman is expected to start.
Arsene Wenger will use his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in this game with Ramsey and Flamini starting in the double pivot – which means Arteta will remain at the bench. The only concern that Arsene Wenger might have at the moment is about the fact that his side has kept only three clean sheets in all competitions this season – two of which came in the Champions League qualifier match against Fenerbahce.
Injury has forced Wenger to play Gnabry and Wilshere on the wings. While the former has done well since his debut in the first team and even managed to score the opening goal against Swansea, Wilshere has visibly struggled a bit on the wing. The English man is not a natural wide player, and while he is doing a job for the team, he is still trying to cope in this new role. Moreover, with both Ozil and Wilshere drifting inside, it is at times exposing Gibbs to a lot of counter attacks. Swansea exploited the left side of Arsenal’s midfield in the last game and it can become a concern against Napoli as well.
The role of Flamini will be crucial once again if Arsenal are to contain Hamsik from influencing the game. The Slovakian international is the key to Napoli’s attack and Flamini will have to keep a close eye on him. Arsene Wenger will also be sceptical about using a high line in defence as it will expose Mertesacker’s lack of pace at the back, especially considering Napoli’s pacey attackers. This was also highlighted in the first half against Swansea, before Wenger made a tactical change at the half time and the Arsenal defence dropped deep.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1] : Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey; Gnabry, Ozil, Wilshere; Giroud
Unlike Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez doesn’t have too many injury concerns ahead of this fixture. Full back Christian Maggio is the only absentee in the current squad.
The former Liverpool manager in fact had the luxury of resting a lot of first team players in their last match in the league. Benitez is expected to make three changes to the side that won 2-0 against Genoa. Gonzalo Higuain will replace Duvan Zapata upfront, while Hamsik will replace Lorenzo Insigne in attack. Goran Pandev will retain his place after scoring a brace against Genoa, but will have to shift outwide on the left to make space for Hamsik. Insigne, who scored from a wonderfui free kick against Dortmund in their last Champions League game, is likely to miss out as Callejon will be preferred by Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez has made a lot of tactical changes to the side since taking over at the club. Napoli played with a back three under Walter Mazzarri, but Benitez has switched back to a back four. Moreover, under Mazzarri Napoli sat deep and were mostly a counter attacking side. But under Benitez, Napoli are looking to change over to a more possession based attack, although they are still remain dangerous on counter attacks.
Napoli will look to exploit Arsenal’s vulnerability on the wings in this game. Both Sagna and Gibbs will come under pressure from the likes of Pandev and Callejon. Zuniga and Mesto are also important outlets in attack.
Probable Starting Line-Up [4-5-1]: Reina (GK); Mesto, Albiol, Britos, Zuniga; Dzemalli, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik, Pandev; Higuain
- Arsenal have won their last 4 matches in the Champions League.
- There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 5 of Napoli’s last 6 games in the Champions League.
- Arsenal have scored at least 2 goals in their last 4 matches in the Champions League.
- Napoli have scored at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 matches in the Champions League.
- Arsenal haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet in their last five matches.
Player To Watch Out For
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
The 26-year-old has been in fantastic form this season and has already scored four goals in the opening six matches in the league. This match will feature two of the finest attacking midfielders in the game at the moment – Mesut Ozil and Marek Hamsik – and the outcome might well be decided on who outperforms the other. Hamsik will undoubtedly be Napoli’s biggest threat in the attack and if he can provide for Higuain upfront, Arsenal defenders will have a hard time.
Arsenal 1-1 Napoli
Two teams who are high on confidence should make for an entertaining battle on the pitch. Arsenal will start the match on the front foot, but Napoli will claw their way back into the game. This tight battle is likely to end in a draw with both teams sharing the spoil.