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Arsenal vs. Napoli: Big Stars to Watch in This Emirates Cup Clash

Colin O'BrienContributor IAugust 2, 2013

Arsenal vs. Napoli: Big Stars to Watch in This Emirates Cup Clash

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    Arsenal will play host to Rafa Benitez's new-look Napoli in the Emirates Cup this weekend, and it promises to be one of the picks of the midsummer friendlies.

    Both sides have plenty of attacking talent and, whatever the result, it's a great opportunity to run the rule over two of Europe's most interesting sides ahead of the 2013-14 campaigns in England, Italy and the Champions League. 

    So who should we pay particular attention to?

Gonzalo Higuain

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    All eyes will be on Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine arrived from Real Madrid to much fanfare in Naples, but he's got some big shoes to fill.

    Though Higuain is a potent striker, it's not just anyone he's replacing. Napoli relied on Edinson Cavani's goals in recent seasons, and while Rafa Benitez will be trying to develop the club into more than a one-man squad, the Spaniard will still be looking to his No. 9 to be a focal point for the team. 

    In London, Higuain has a relatively low-key chance to get off to the right start. A goal or two in London would whet the appetites of the Partenopei faithful—and issue fair warning to Napoli's Serie A adversaries.

    It might also cause some embarrassment for the Gunners, because Arsenal were among the hot favourites to sign Higuain earlier in the summer. 

Santi Cazorla

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    We already know what to expect from Santi Cazorla, so why watch him? Because he's absolutely brilliant, of course. 

    The 28-year-old Spaniard had a stellar first season at the Emirates last term and looks certain to star for Wenger's side again in 2013-14.

    Cazorla was the Gunners' best player last season, and while the attention right now is on signing the likes of Liverpool's Luis Suarez, there's an argument to be made for believing that holding on to the attacking star is a great bit of transfer-window business in itself. 

    He's good with both feet, on either wing or down the middle. He sets up goals and scores them too.

    Any manager would be happy to say that about one of their players and fans should be happy to see him strut his stuff too. 

Dries Mertens

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    If Higuain was brought in to replace Cavani up front, it was only in the sense that every side needs a goalscorer. Benitez's Napoli will look nothing like Walter Mazzarri's, so the squad behind the Argentine is unlikely to be something that the Uruguayan would recognise.

    Dries Mertens was Rafa's first signing, brought in to give the side real width and attacking flair on the wings. 

    Mertens had more than a goal every two games for PSV Eindhoven and it's hoped he'll contribute plenty in Naples too.

    The 26-year-old has already made his Azzurri debut in the 3-1 win against Galatasaray, but this Arsenal clash offers another chance to consider a player who will be absolutely crucial to Benitez's reshaping of Napoli from a three-man defence to a 4-2-3-1.

Yaya Sanogo

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    Unless you're an Arsenal fan, you might be asking yourself, "Yaya who?" And that's fair enough—Getty Images don't even have a photo of him on file yet.

    Yaya Sanogo is the latest in a long line of young Frenchmen signed by Wenger over the years, snapping up this 20-year-old from Ligue 2 side Auxerre on a free transfer. 

    Not exactly headline-grabbing stuff when the media's got the likes of Suarez, Cavani, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to follow about, but then, Wenger has had some success with unknown French footballers over the years... 

    Sanogo is a powerful forward who's been capped at every junior level for Les Bleus and is tipped for great things.

    A good performance against one of Europe's best sides would be a great place for him to start impressing. 

Rafa Benitez

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    Why watch Rafa Benitez? Because he's one of the stars of the show at Napoli.

    The Spaniard has brought genuine winning experience to southern Italy, with a host of successes to his name including two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup with Valencia, a Champions League title with Liverpool and a Europa League title during his short stint at Chelsea

    Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis made a shrewd decision by bringing Benitez to San Paolo. Mazzarri had done a great job, but the relationship had run its course.

    Convincing a manager of Benitez's stature to come could only have been done with a clear plan of how to take Napoli to the next level. The first step of that plan is in progress right now. 

    Benitez must reshape a team that was not only tactically rigid, but rigid in a way that's at odds to his own ingrained style. Transforming the Azzurri won't be easy, and there'll be plenty of people charting his early progress in these summer friendlies.

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