Two of Europa League’s big guns go head to head as Arsenal and Napoli hope for an excellent start to their two-legged quarter-final tie.
Unai Emery will be hopeful his Arsenal team show character after the recent loss to Everton in the Premier League which somewhat put pressure on their race to a top-four finish. Despite that result, Arsenal still are one of the favourites to finish in the top four, although Emery will be keen to win the Europa League which could prove to be an alternate route to next season’s Champions League.
In that loss to Everton, Arsenal’s away form came into question once more, and Emery will be relieved to be playing the quarter-final first leg at home against Napoli. At the Emirates, Arsenal have been in imperious form and hope to take advantage from here onto the next leg in Naples. The Gunners come into this stage of the competition, courtesy of their hard-fought win over Rennes in the previous round.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli could prove to be the catalyst in Arsenal and Emery’s pursuit of the Europa League. The Serie A side, along with Arsenal and Chelsea are considered one of the favourites to win the competition this season. Napoli played this season’s Champions League group stage and were pinned against the likes of Liverpool and PSG in a tight group.
Their aspirations of making it far in that Champions League group were shattered, and now they find themselves facing by far the toughest fixture of this season’s Europa League against Arsenal. Ancelotti’s side overcame FC Zurich and RB Salzburg in the previous knockout rounds to reach this stage. They will be hoping to get a positive result and swing the tie in their favour before the return leg in Naples.
Team News & Tactics
Emery is still sweating on the fitness of key duo, Laurent Koscielny and Granit Xhaka who have missed the last two games against Newcastle United and Everton. Both have been sidelined with respective injuries since the international break, although the manager is hopeful they play a part against Napoli.
Sokratis, who missed the last European game through suspension is eligible again, and given the Greek defender is suspended for the next two domestic fixtures, he should start against Napoli. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey who featured from the bench against Everton are match-fit and will likely play from the start against Napoli.
Joining Ramsey in the midfield would be Lucas Torreira, who has missed the last two domestic games through suspension. Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil are other candidates to play the game from the start, although there are others such as Alex Iwobi, Denis Suarez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who are also pushing to be included in the starting lineup.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac should continue as wing-backs, while the likes of Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi are likely candidates in central defence. In case Koscielny is fully fit, he could replace the error-prone Mustafi, although the Frenchman is considered 50/50 for the clash.
It will also be interesting to see who Emery picks for his goalkeeper as the Napoli game is a key one, but we reckon he could stick with Petr Cech there.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Cech; Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Ozil; Lacazette, Aubameyang
Ancelotti will savour the news that star defender Kalidou Koulibaly along with Nikola Maksimovic are available again after they were suspended from the last game in the competition. Additionally, key forward, Lorenzo Insigne, who has scored 13 goals and provided seven assists is also available, along with full-back Faouzi Ghoulam.
Elsewhere, Amadou Diawara and Raul Albiol are probably out of the Arsenal game as the duo are carrying injuries. Goalkeeper David Ospina, who is on-loan from Arsenal is also out with a head injury suffered recently, despite being eligible to play against his parent club.
Ancelotti has a good squad at his disposal to play against Arsenal, with the likes of Fabian Ruiz and Allan expected to form their midfield partnership. Apart from the returning Insigne, there is also the threat posed by Dries Mertens up front, as well as support from Callejon and Zielinski from wide areas.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Meret; Malcuit, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Rui; Callejon, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Zielinski; Imsigne, Mertens
- Arsenal and Napoli have faced off just twice before in Europe – home and away in the group stages of the Champions League in 2013-14.
- Arsenal defeated the Italian side 2-0 at the Emirates, before losing by the same scoreline at the Stadio San Paolo.
- Napoli have reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup/Europa League for the third time in their history.
- Arsenal have reached the quarter-final stages of European competitions in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2008-09/2009-10 in the Champions League.
- Napoli have never beaten an English side away from home in European competitions (P8 W0 D1 L7).
Player to Watch
It wasn’t until late in the season that Emery has realised the true importance of Ramsey in his lineup. The Welshman had to bide much time on the bench this season as Emery wanted to keep his squad intact and not make it dependent on Ramsey as the contractual situation of the midfielder unfolded. But the midfielder is back to his best and has taken his chances well when afforded.
Dropped to the bench yet again against Everton, Arsenal sorely missed the Welshman’s services, and when he came on, the difference was there to see. Hoping that Emery will start the star midfielder, Ramsey has the potential to hurt Napoli and help Arsenal in their quest for Europa League glory.
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli
Arsenal’s defence were put to a stern test by Everton last Monday, but the side are generally struggling away from home. The clash against Napoli will be played in London, and the Gunners have, in recent weeks, maintained a fantastic record here. They have conceded just once in their last six home games in all competitions, and are not expected to break that chain against Napoli.
Napoli have the firepower to break any top side, and though they might find the net at some point in the second leg, it would be a challenging prospect to do so at the Emirates. All in all, Arsenal look like favourites to win the first leg and take a decent advantage, if not a monumental one to Naples next week.