Good day one and all.
Arsenal is in Italy this evening to play Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo in the second leg of their Europa League encounter, holding a two goal lead as they look to reach their second consecutive semi-final in this competition.
The Gunners’ away form has been uninspiring making the first leg 2-0 not seem like much, but taking into account that we kept the Italian side from scoring what could have been a crucial away goal, gives us an advantage because as things stand the hosts need to beat us by at least three goals to progress in normal time. Of course if they win the tie 2 – 0 after extra time the game will go to a penalty shoot-out.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side will remain hopeful though that they can get a positive result as they’re unbeaten in five European fixtures in Naples this season (W4, D1), with an aggregate score of 10-2, the last a 3-0 win over RB Salzburg.
Arsenal have mixed fortunes playing on Italian soil. They won five of their last nine matches, their most recent a 2 – 0 win over AC Milan in last season’s Europa Round of 16.
Both teams go into the game on the backs of league victories. Napoli a 3 – 1 over Chievo Verona and Arsenal a rather timid 1 – 0 win at Watford. I’m not entirely sure if we should read too much into our performance on Monday night. We took the lead early in the 10th minute and the Hornets lost Troy Deeney soon after, meaning, with the quick turnaround to our game tonight we didn’t really have to go full tilt, but instead pace ourselves. So a review of that match ought to be looked at as ‘job done’ because at this late stage of the season it is more about getting the right result than aesthetics.
Needless to say Arsenal weren’t the most pleasing on the eye in recent weeks but did win five of our last six games in all competitions, outscoring the opposition 10 – 1, and to get over the line tonight we could do with another decent defensive display.
The onus will be on Napoli to do it all if they are to turn this around, while Arsenal can afford to just sit back, soak up that vibrant Italian atmosphere and slow the game down while lying in wait to hit them on the counter. The Gunners just need to have one goal in them to open the hosts up, two goals … well … then they will have to put five past an Arsenal defence that has been resolute of late.
There has been concerns for Unai Emery on Laurent Koscielny and Lucas Torreira after Watford took bits out of them, but he did travel with a strong side to Italy, including Big Papa Sokratis who sat out Monday’s match due to league suspension. So it’s very unlikely the boss will leave this one up to chance and pick a much stronger side than the one that took the field against Rennes in our last Europa away match.
With Napoli being compelled to go for goals I don’t see this going to a penalty shoot out, because by playing offence they should play in our hands to open the game up and give us scoring opportunities. Our most important task will be to keep our heads and not risk getting anybody send off.
Now the only question is: can Arsenal do it on a Thursday night in Naples?