Napoli (2) – (0) Arsenal
The Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Champions League Group Stage
In the end, Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat against Napoli means that because of Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win against Marseille, they finish second in the group.
Which now means we could play teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain.
Arsenal played like a team that only needed a draw and that is always a dangerous game. Obviously, Arsenal didn’t need to make any unnecessary risks but from the outset it was clear we didn’t want to concede three goals and by full time that didn’t happen – but we conceded two.
The first half was timid and both sides went through the motions. Napoli’s game-plan was to keep it 0-0 and try and score in the second half, while Arsenal just didn’t want to concede. Unfortunately while Napoli raised their urgency in the second half we were still trying to see the game out and on 73 minutes we conceded to a well-taken Gonzalo Higuain goal.
As soon as the second half kicked off however, Napoli were at the races but we needed something to lift the side and for me that should have been Theo Walcott. As Napoli pushed forward, we were camped inside our own half and had no outlet or way to relieve the pressure. Napoli were so high up the pitch that it was perfect for Theo to exploit with his pace.
But as it stood, Arsene made no changes and the inevitable happened. Napoli scored and with the result in Marseille being 1-1, Napoli rested on their laurels and sat on a one goal lead. With 4 minutes of normal time left, news came through that Dortmund scored and Napoli almost responded immediately, scoring a second through Callejon.
The worrying thing was that when Napoli went for it they scored. We defended well at times but as Per Mertesacker said at full time, it’s hard to perform when mentally you’re only at 90%. Arsenal were more than capable of getting a draw in Naples but they were too negative. Once the game kicked off, Napoli knew they were against a side content on defending and knew we wouldn’t offer an attacking threat. The approach was counter-productive and now we sit in 2nd place in a group we really should have won.
There is no way that we can get an “easy” game in the knockout stages now we’ve finished second in the group, and whichever side we draw, it is going to be one hell of a challenge.