What: UEFA Champions League – Group F
Who: Arsenal vs Napoli
When: Tuesday 1st October, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England
Confidence, Consistency, and Belief
Red-hot Arsenal will be raring to go on Tuesday night as they prepare for the visit of Italian side Napoli. With the clash featuring two clubs who have enjoyed a fantastic start to the new season in their respective leagues and in Europe, this could prove to be an entertaining match.
Arsenal have had plenty of skill and quality within the squad the last few seasons, however a lack of experience, defensive solidity and belief seemed to derail title challenges and trophy pursuits. While the season is still young, Arsene Wenger has his team topping the Premier League table after six matches, playing good football, and most of all showing off a side who truly seem to believe that this is the year they can end eight years of trophy-less pain.
Wenger praised his side in the aftermath of the weekend’s 2-1 away win at Swansea, which saw Arsenal win their eighth straight Premier League away match. “We have seen a different Arsenal, much more clinical, playing with much more purpose”, said the French manager. He went to explain that he believed his young players deserved credit, especially the performances of Serge Gnabry and Aaron Ramsey; the latter of the pair has been having the season of his career.
The Arsenal boss will know all about Napoli – and first hand too, after the Italian side played in the Emirates Cup in pre-season. And Wenger will expect a tough game.
Rafael Benitez Leading Title Charge
Rafael Benitez’s arrival in Naples has coincided with the club reeling off one of their best ever starts to a Serie A season. The Spaniard has his side firing on all cylinders having won five of their first six matches in the new Serie A campaign. In Europe there has been success already with a fine 2-1 win over last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund.
Serie A looks to be particularly challenging this season with the likes of Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina, and even Inter Milan all looking good enough at times to challenge Juventus’ stranglehold on the title. Napoli are full of belief at the moment and the signings of Pepe Reina and Gonzalo Higuain amongst others have nicely complemented an already strong squad.
Benitez has already expressed his relief at moving on from Chelsea last season. Winning the Europa League and garnering a Champions League berth was not enough to win over some supporters at Stamford Bridge. But it has been all different since he went to Naples and already his new club are showing lots of potential. This has not been lost on the players. Higuain recently attested to his belief that this side are capable of anything with Benitez.
“It’s no surprise that Napoli are so ready, we have a strong team and a lot of work has been done in recent years, and with a coach like Benitez, I think we’ll do great things”, said the Argentine. If their current form continues then Napoli could certainly be looking at a special season.
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke (22/09; Premier League)
West Brom 1-1 Arsenal (25/09; League Cup)
Swansea 1-2 Arsenal (28/09; Premier League)
AC Milan 1-2 Napoli (22/09; Serie A)
Napoli 1-1 Sassuolo (25/09; Serie A)
Genoa 0-2 Napoli (28/09; Serie A)
Arsenal: Theo Walcott; Santi Cazorla; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Lukas Podolski
Napoli: Christian Maggio
Players to watch
Arsenal – Aaron Ramsey: Everything the Welsh midfielder has touched has turned to gold this season. Already with a career best eight goals scored, Ramsey’s influence is not only evidenced in the statistics, but also on the pitch. His energy and work-rate both defensively and in attack have given Arsenal an extra edge this season. After injury setbacks that threatened to derail his career, Ramsey has bounced back in emphatic style. This should be no surprise to people who have followed the 22-year-old as his form in the second half of last season set the tone for the current campaign’s displays.
Napoli – Gonzalo Higuain: Wenger stated ahead of this match that he didn’t regret not being able to sign the Argentine striker. However, he was quick to reveal his admiration for such a quality player. Having had a successful few seasons with Real Madrid that produced plenty of goals, Higuain began to see his playing time diminish at the Bernabeu. His move to Napoli raised some eyebrows, but it already seems like a perfect fit. Three goals in the league and one in the Champions League shows that the 25-year-old was an astute buy for a player approaching the prime of his career. Instead of Napoli supporters bemoaning the loss of Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayan’s departure has hardly been a topic of conversation thanks to Higuain’s early showings.
Every Champions League week throws up superb ties and this will be no different. Besides Manchester City vs Bayern Munich this may well be the pick of the 16 matches as both Arsenal and Napoli enter in splendid form. Arsenal’s injury concerns may give Napoli that little additional belief that they can pick up a result at the Emirates, while the winner will have one foot in the knockout round of the competition as each team picked up three points in their opener. Napoli’s threat on the counter-attack will be a real concern for Wenger’s men, but this season Arsenal have been able to add the one thing missing from the team for so long, belief. It should be a mammoth battle; however the edge must go to the Gunners at home. Arsenal 2-1 Napoli.
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