Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Napoli preview: another tough test

Champions League action tonight as Napoli come to town.

The team news is positive in that we’ve lost nobody from the weekend and welcome back Tomas Rosicky to the squad. Whether he’s fit enough to start remains to be seen but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him come straight back into the team, despite how well Serge Gnabry has played in the last week.

Indeed, he might even take the place of Jack Wilshere if the manager feels the England man needs a rest, but the temptation to go with an unchanged side must be great. I think this is one of those games when Arsene could consider the Arteta/Flamini option. Against a good technical side like Napoli, he might consider the Spaniard a better fit to that deeper midfield role.

He’s not as in your face and combative as Flamini, but is more assured and better on the ball. That said, Flamini knows Italian football well and who better to counter the dark arts than him? What’s positive is that for the first time in a couple of weeks he’s got options and decisions to make rather than simply picking the only real XI available to him.

After a good opening day win against Marseille, a positive result tonight would go a long way towards securing qualification from a very difficult group. We said when the draw came out that this was probably the most difficult and challenging group of them all. There’s no FC Gîmp of CF Blajivor in this lot, each game is going prove a massive test, and with Napoli second in Serie A and yet to lose a game this season that’s certainly true of tonight.

The manager has identified their quickness on the break as the key danger, saying:

That’s what struck me as well in the Emirates Cup – when they win the ball they come out very quickly with Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne and Higuain, [who] come out like bombs all the time they win the ball. The transition from our side from offence to defence will have to be very quick.

It has been an area in which we’ve been vulnerable in recent times. I seem to recall one of the Villa goals was scored from a break from an Arsenal corner (although I think we were down to 10 men and really pushing for an equaliser at that point). However, the players are well aware of their defensive responsibilities nowadays, and after Swansea I noted how even 18 year old Serge Gnabry was fully switched on throughout his performance.

As the home side the onus will be on us to go for it a bit so there is the danger that we’ll leave some space for them to exploit, but I think we’ve been so cohesive as both a team and a defensive unit that we should be able to cope.

Bacary Sagna has been bigging up Olivier Giroud after his good start to the season, but it’s 3 games without a goal for the Frenchman now. He played a lovely part in Ramsey’s second against Swansea, and his all-round play is much improved, but as the only real striker at the club there is a pressure on him to delivery more regularly than last season, when he had the likes of Podolski and Walcott flanking him.

Tonight would be a good night to get back on track in that regard. He got 2 Champions League goals last season, including one in Munich, and I’m sure he’d be hoping to achieve more than that this time around. It’s game like these which will really prove that he’s made a big step forward as a player, so fingers crossed he can deliver.

So, it’s gonna be a tough, probably very tight against a Benitez team who will be set up well to try and nullify our main threats, and we have the little sideshow of a player who could have joined us this summer but went elsewhere. It’s funny how often those things play out but hopefully tonight we can keep Higuain quiet. There’s also a bit of a Real Madrid reunion going on with Ozil facing the Argentine, as well as Callejon and Albiol.

All in all, it’s set up for an interesting game and, really, this is what the Champions League is all about. Games against the lesser lights are generally two things. Firstly, an assurance of a good result but secondly, dull as dishwater for the most part. Pitting yourselves against the best teams in Europe is what makes for the best European nights and hopefully we’ll have one of those later on.

There’s not much else happening but if you fancy winning a copy of the new Dennis Bergkamp autobiography, Stillness and Speed, check out the competition here. Not only do we have 5 copies of the book to give away, there’s one star prize which is a book signed by Dennis himself, as well as a signed Arsenal football.

Not too shabby at all. You have until midnight on Wednesday to get your entries in, winner will be announced on Thursday morning. And just a small note: please enter once and once only. Thank you!

Remember, if you can’t see the game later on, we’ll have full live blog coverage for you. You can follow the game on your phone, computer, tablet or anything else. Simply bookmark our default live blog page, or check back later for a post with all the details.

And if you fancy betting on the game, sign up with Paddy Power, bet £10, get £20. Click here to register.

Right, that’s yer lot, until this evening.

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