Arsenal vs. Napoli: Gunners Hope They Won't Be Haunted by Gonzalo Higuain

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

GENOA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Gonzalo Higuain of SSC Napoli looks on during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and SSC Napoli at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on September 28, 2013 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Arsenal fans spent much of the transfer window dreaming of the tantalising prospect of seeing Gonzalo Higuain line up at the Emirates Stadium.

Tomorrow night, that dream will be realised. However, one detail will differ from the summer reveries of the Gunners fans: Higuain will be wearing the blue of Napoli rather than the red of Arsenal.

Higuain was one of several players Arsenal targeted during their high-profile search for a centre-forward. Speaking to the club's official website, manager Arsene Wenger admitted:

We were working on two or three targets and he was one of them. It didn't come off in the end, that doesn't take anything away from his quality.

Napoli took advantage of that at the right moment, it's more about timing as well.

In the end Real Madrid sold two great players, one of them went to Napoli, one [Mesut Ozil] went to Arsenal so it's 1-1 on that front.

It would be churlish of Arsenal fans to complain about their summer activity having landed a player of Ozil's undoubted quality. However, as Higuain takes to the field for Rafael Benitez's side, there will be many wondering what might have been.

Arsenal desperately needed a good striker this summer.

In 2012-13, Olivier Giroud had a promising but imperfect first season in an Arsenal shirt, and was desperately short of support. Neither Lukas Podolski nor Theo Walcott convinced in a central role, and the less said about Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young the better.

Higuain seemed the perfect signing.

He's quicker than Giroud, and more deadly in the penalty area. He combines intelligence, instinct and lethal finishing. For a long time it looked as if his move to Arsenal was simply a matter of time.

However, the Gunners' interest wavered when they caught wind of Luis Suarez's supposed £40 million release clause. Suddenly, Arsenal's attention switched from the Argentine hitman to the controversial Uruguayan.

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 16:  Gonzalo Higuain (R) of Real Madrid CF celebrates with Mesut Ozil after scoring Real's 4th goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RCD Mallorca at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 16, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (P
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Wenger's apparent preference for Suarez is, in many respects, understandable.

He is fully adapted to the demands of the Premier League, and offers genuine versatility. Signing Higuain might have restricted the opportunities for Olivier Giroud in the centre. Whereas Suarez is able to play wide and as a second striker, Higuain and Giroud would have been in direct competition for the central striking spot. As the Frenchman himself told L'Equipe:

When the name of Suarez was circulating, I honestly thought it was a good thing for the team. He would have been complementary.

I’m getting a little more legitimacy, especially this season. But I repeat, Suarez would have been a cannon.

Suarez can also play on one side [out wide]. It would have been difficult for me with another player.

We (He and Higuain) would have been in direct competition because he is a pure central striker.

As it turned out, the small-print in Suarez's contract rendered Arsenal's bid fruitless. As they wrangled with Liverpool, Napoli pounced for Higuain, outbidding the Gunners with the enormous war-chest received from Paris Saint-Germain in exchange for the services of Edinson Cavani.

Higuain has joined a club where he is the undisputed first-choice forward, and follows in the footsteps of his legendary compatriot Diego Maradona.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool at the Stadium of Light on September 29, 2013 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The early signs are that he is relishing the responsibility. Higuain has scored four times in his first seven appearances for I Ciucciarelli.

However, Giroud has begun the season well at Arsenal, notching five times in the campaign's early stages. Both of these men will be eager to impress on a night when comparisons are inevitable.

The striker who comes out on top could define this match. Arsenal will have to hope missing out on Higuain does not come back to haunt them.


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