Arsenal FC sneak through to next round as Napoli are knocked-out despite winning against the Gunners.
Napoli provides Arsenal with a scare at Naples as the Italian side were just one goal away from knocking out the Gunners. Arsene Wenger’s men came into this game knowing that they needed to avoid a defeat by three goals in order to confirm their place in the next round. Neither of the sides created too many opportunities in the first half. Goran Pandev’s shot in the eighth minute was beaten away by Szczesny, while Olivier Giroud had a similar opportunity saved by Rafael. But Szczesny nearly gifted a goal back to Napoli right at the end of the first half as he attempted pass to Jenkinson went straight to the former Real Madrid striker and he headed it wide. The ball arrived too quickly for the striker to control it and Arsenal escaped.
Rafa Bentiez’s men came out with a lot more intent in the second half and the introduction of Lorezo Insigne added a lot more threat to the attack. Finally Napoli’s endeavour bore results as Gonzalo Higuain, the man who was heavily linked with a move to the Emirates this summer, scored the opening goal in the 73rd minute. Pablo Armero found out Gonzalo Higuain at edge of the box and the he passed to his former Real Madrid team mate Jose Callejon. Callejon returned the ball to Higuain inside the box and the Argentine international swivelled wonderfully and found the bottom corner of the net with his shot. At that point Napoli and Arsenal were going through to the knockout phase as Dortmund were being held to a draw by Marseille. But as the news of Dortmund’s second goal arrived at Naples, the stadium was stunned to silence. Napoli suddenly needed two more goals to go through to the next round.
It an incredible turn of events Arsenal were down to 10-men as Mikel Arteta was sent off for his second bookable offense. The second booking looked a bit harsh, but the Gunners were now desperate to restrict Napoli to his score-line. Napoli did manage to score their second goal in the stoppage time though as Joe Callejon, after being set through on goal by a wonderful reverse pass by Insigne, lifted the ball over Szczesny into the back of the net. It set up a nerve racking finish, but that second goal arrived too late for Rafa Benitez’s men as there was no time left for a third. Napoli in the end missed out on qualification by just one goal and became the only team in the history of the Champions League to be knocked out of the group stages despite gathering 12 points. Considering the fact that Zenit qualified from Group G with just six points, Napoli will consider themselves hugely unlucky.
Arsene Wenger was disappointed with the result and the fact that his team has missed the opportunity to win the group and was close to getting eliminated. They now face the possibility of having tough draw in the next round as a result, but Wenger hopes this time they will have bit of luck in the draw.
“That is the frustration (not winning the group), because you feel there was room to do better, but it could have been worse as well tonight.
“Of course, to finish second makes the potential draw more difficult. In the last four or five years, we have had very difficult draws, so maybe this time we will be more lucky.
“But if you look at the teams who are potentially there, at least we know we will have a difficult draw.
“On the other hand, we have now qualified (from the initial group stage) for a 14th consecutive year and maybe number 14 will bring us a bit of luck.” – The Arsenal manager said.
But Arsenal won’t have a moment to reflect on this result as they prepare to face Manchester City up next.
“But for now, we have a little breather to focus on the championship. We have a very difficult game on Saturday morning (at Manchester City).
“We will see what comes out of the draw and will assess that in February, because a lot can change on both sides, on us and the team we play against, so we need to put that to the back of our minds now and focus on the championship.” – Wenger added.
The Frenchman felt that Napoli were physically stronger and sharper, especially in the second half and the dismissal of Arteta was a turning point.
“I felt in the first half we controlled the game well, and, in the second half, Napoli were the better team.
“We prepared well and were concentrated, but we were a bit in between do we attack or do we defend, so it is difficult to cope with that problem.
“In the second half, I felt that our legs went a little bit and Napoli were sharper physically than us.
“They always looked dangerous and won the game 2-0. They deserved it and were always dangerous.
“When we were down to 10 men and 1-0 down, the doubt crept in a bit, and it was a difficult moment.
“But we managed to keep it to 1-0 until the last minute of the game, and it just shows you that this group had three very good teams, who all made 12 points and goal difference played a big part.
“It was always going to be like that when Marseille took no points – one team was unfortunately going to suffer.” – He told the press after the match.
Wenger accepted that the match against Manchester City was on their mind ahead of this game.
“Saturday was on our mind, (but) we knew to come to Naples would be difficult.
“We have done our job now we will give absolutely everything on Saturday morning.”
Wenger also believes that Napoli can win the Europa League, a tournament Rafa Benitez won with Chelsea last season.
“They have the quality to win it Napoli, but there are some English teams they will have to fight against as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, Napoli manager Rafa Benitez was proud of the result and the performance his team put out on the night.
“It is not easy to play at this level and with this intensity in every match but the squad did well, especially in the second half when we deserved to win.
“I would have liked to have scored earlier in order to press later on. It wasn’t easy to push as Arsenal are a squad that can punish you.
“We must be proud of what we have done. We are a squad that is growing and today we showed that we can play at certain levels even if we can improve on a few things.
“This is the right path. The sacrifices of this squad and all of the fans made the difference against a team like Arsenal.
“The match against Inter? After the Champions League and after this effort we must charge the squad once again. It will be a difficult match but it can be an important turning point in order to cancel out the feeling that we are missing something.
“Now the Europa League is the target? No, we must look to the championship as the Europa League is in February.” – The Napoli boss said.