Arsenal will make their home debut in the Champions League on Tuesday when they take on Italian Serie A leaders Napoli at 7:45 pm at the Emirates. The Premier League leaders earned a 2-1 win in Marseille in their opening Group F match while Napoli produced the same result at home against Borussia Dortmund. The Gunners will be trying to extend their current winning streak this season to 10 games in all competitions after losing their season opener 3-1 to Aston Villa.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes that three points against Napoli will go a long way into securing a spot to reach the final 16 of the European tournament. “I wouldn’t say it is already a decisive game, but it is a game that will have a great bearing on who qualifies. If we deal with that situation then we will be in a very positive mood to finish the job,” he stated.
As has been the case since the start of the season though, Wenger will be without some of his top players due to injuries. These include midfielders Abou Diaby, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as forwards Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott. Midfielder Mikel Arteta recently returned to action and Tomas Rosicky could be ready to return against Napoli.
Napoli, now managed by Rafael Benitez, have five wins and a draw in their first half dozen Serie A contests and are just as hot as the Gunners. However, Benitez feels they’re still not firing on all cylinders and can improve their play. He remarked, “We talk with the team every day and we know that we are at 75 per cent. Now we must continue to grow. I know that we can and we must be competitive to try and win against all opponents.”
The Spanish manager is lucky enough to have a relatively healthy squad to choose from as the only player missing will likely be Christian Maggio due to a knee injury. The Italian side is dangerous on the counter attack and Wenger has warned his players to be aware of it. The two teams squared off during the preseason and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Wenger said Napoli playmaker Lorenzo Insigne and striker Gonzalo Higuain will need to be marked closely. He added that his players will need to make sure the transition from offence to defence is handled as quickly as possible.
Arsenal has their own firepower when they’re on the attack with Welsh midfielder enjoying the season of his life so far with eight goals in nine matches. French striker Olivier Giroud has managed to chip in with five in nine games while German international midfielder Mesut Ozil is proving to be a fine setup man. However, if those players fail to find the back of the net things could be tense for Arsenal since many of their best offensive performers are sidelined.
A side story to the match is Argentine striker Higuain, as he chose to join Napoli during the offseason rather than the Gunners. He left Real Madrid in a £34 million transfer and will want to prove that he made the right decision. Wenger said, “We were working on two or three targets and Higuain was one of them. It did not come off in the end, but that does not take anything away from his quality. Napoli took advantage of that at the right moment. As we know, in the end Real Madrid sold two great players, one of them went to Napoli, one went to Arsenal.”
Napoli has six wins, two draws and two losses in their past 10 away matches while Arsenal has won five, drawn three and lost a pair in their past 10 home contests.