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UEFA Champions League: Napoli vs Arsenal Preview

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.


Napoli vs Arsenal | Wednesday 11 December | San Paolo | 21:45

It almost seems as if one would require an advanced degree in quantum physics to explain all the permutations of the so-called ‘Group of Death’. One thing is for sure, Marseille are out. All Arsenal require is one point to keep their proud Champions League record intact. If Dortmund beat Marseille, Napoli will have to win this encounter by a clear three goals in order to advance alongside Dortmund to the next phase. It is fairly confusing but basically boils down to this. Napoli have a mountain to climb. Rafa Benitez’s side have been in something of a domestic funk of late and really need to fire on every cylinder possible to overcome an Arsenal side that has struck the right balance between extravagance and solidity.

To Win (90mins)
Napoli 14/10
Draw 24/10
Arsenal 2/1

Napoli
Rafa Benitez will be bitterly disappointed with the manner in which his team surrendered a two goal lead at home to Udinese on the weekend. Victory would have seen them reduce the deficit to Juventus to just four points. As it stands, Napoli are currently sitting fairly pretty in Serie A despite some recent wobbles. The order of the day against Arsenal has got to be attack. They have to assume that Dortmund will beat a very unfortunate Marseille side. They may still be without the highly influential playmaker Marek Hamsik due to a foot injury.

If Hamsek does not play, Benitez will likely start with a front three of Higuain, Insigne and Pandev. Pandev scored twice on the weekend and looked threatening throughout the course of the game. Gonzalo Higuain has not quite hit his straps yet in Naples, despite scoring against Lazio a few weeks back. He will need to reclaim some of his Real Madrid form against the club that came so close to securing his signature. If you can recall, there was widespread speculation that his father had reached an agreement with the London side over his imminent transfer. Perhaps Gonzalo wishes his father had been a better negotiator now.

A key player for me will be Inler. When Chelsea defeated Napoli en-route to their unlikely European Cup triumph, Inler was sensational in the home leg, completely dominating Frank Lampard in the middle of the park. They may choose to opt for a back three in Albiol, Reveillere and Fernandez, freeing up Maggio to bomb down the channels. Napoli will definitely throw everything they have at it, but this is a more stout Arsenal side than one has come to expect.

Arsenal

Arsenal shouldn’t be too dismayed that they dropped a few points to Everton. Everton are a quality side and Arsenal still sit pretty atop the most competitive league in European football. Arsene Wenger knows that all his side requires is a point to ensure qualification, as well as top spot, in the Group of Death. They will be without Bacary Sagna who is still nursing a hamstring strain. Carl Jenkinson has proved an able deputy for the Frenchman; I always felt that Jenkinson (like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones) has an awkward physique that isn’t optimal for mobility; this game will be the true test where that is concerned.

Arsene Wenger will surely take a cautious approach in selection in the hopes of seeing the game through to half-time without any damage being done. He may well play both Flamini and Arteta in deeper holding roles, while Cazorla, Ozil and Ramsey continue their intricacies behind the focal point that is Olivier Giroud. Napoli showed on the weekend that they are defensively naïve, a strange trait for a Rafa Benitez side. They looked particularly vulnerable at set-pieces, a fact that will not have gone unnoticed by Arsene Wenger (or Olivier Giroud).

Arsenal will always present a threat away from home on the counterattack. In Giroud they have a ready outlet from which to base their quick forays. Ozil and Ramsey have developed an almost telepathic understanding that allows them to utilise space to its maximum potential. This should really be an interesting cat and mouse struggle in Naples that could produce a highly entertaining fixture.

VERDICT: Napoli 14/10
Napoli will likely control the tempo of the match, while Arsenal aim to absorb all the pressure they can. Arsenal may be able to contain Napoli until half time, but I expect Napoli’s attacking qualities to finally break Arsenal down in the second half. Having said that, the more Napoli push the more vulnerable they will be to swift Arsenal counterattacks. Arsenal should score one goal in the second half, which will make Napoli’s task all but insurmountable. Napoli will force a win, but not the kind of win they seek.

The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your view below.

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