How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Napoli

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIDecember 10, 2013

Arsenal and Napoli will battle for qualification for the Champions League Round of 16 in the final game of group stage.

The Gunners are much better positioned than Napoli to progress to the next round. They sit atop Group F with 12 points, while Napoli are third and behind Borussia Dortmund on goal difference.

All Arsenal have to do is avoid a 3-0 loss to progress, though they need to at least draw to assure themselves of winning the group. One would therefore assume that Napoli will be more motivated, but Arsenal will certainly not be complacent.

Arsene Wenger must weigh his side's very high chance of progressing with the upcoming match against Manchester City this weekend.

City are looking to be one of the prime challengers to Arsenal's title bid, and the Gunners will need to be sufficiently rested to play a Saturday morning fixture at the most difficult venue in the Premier League.

Yet Wenger expressed his intention to really go for the win in Naples after Arsenal beat Marseille in their last Champions League match (via BBC):

"It would be a mistake to think we just don't have to lose big. We have to play in a positive way and try to win the game, anything else will be a gamble. ... It's unbelievable but it's reality. It's tricky but we have to finish the job. I will have to play a full-strength team against Napoli. I can't take any risks."

So it would be foolish to expect Arsenal to field a weak side against Napoli, who are third in Serie A, which contains three teams with one or fewer losses.

Here's a look at how the Gunners might line up. A few things are notable.


Since Wenger has not given an update on the status of Bacary Sagna, who missed last weekend's game with Everton through injury, it is reasonable to assume that Carl Jenkinson will start in the Frenchman's place.

While Jenkinson is not as poor and undeveloped as some make him out to be, he is not as excellent in both defense and attack as Sagna. Napoli will be a difficult test after his exertions last weekend, but Jenkinson has obviously stuck around at Arsenal for a reason.

On the left side of defense, it makes perfect sense for Kieran Gibbs to make way for Nacho Monreal. Though Gibbs has had an excellent season thus far, Monreal's last two performances have been utterly stellar.

By benching Gibbs, Wenger can use someone who has not played for a week while giving Gibbs a breather before the Manchester City match. And doing so does not mean Wenger is declaring a lack of confidence in Gibbs.

The most glaring change is seen in midfield, where Jack Wilshere is swapped for Aaron Ramsey.

Ramsey's tireless exertions, which have done so much to make him one of the best midfielders in Europe this season, finally seemed to catch up with him against Everton.

It was always bound to happen, as he is only human. But Arsenal really need him to deal with Manchester City's midfield and quiet the rapacious crowd at the Etihad Stadium. Because the Napoli game is not quite as important as the City match, and there will never be a really good time to rest Ramsey, Wenger might as well do it now.

Because Wilshere moves back into central midfield where he belongs, Theo Walcott can finally reassume his place on the right wing.

I have been predicting that Arsene Wenger will reinsert Walcott into the starting XI for several games now, and have been stunned every time that he continues to go for a midfielder on the wing.

There is no doubt that Walcott is fit now. And Arsenal have been sorely missing the width his speed provides. Walcott should be able to perform at the level Arsenal fans are accustomed to seeing him at, and that history merits a chance.

Napoli should be his chance. He also needs to develop a relationship with Mesut Ozil, with whom he has barely played since the German's record-breaking move in early September. Ozil's vision and Walcott's goal-poaching ability would form a devastating attacking force, and Wenger should try the combination.

Other than that, though, this starting XI is very similar to the ones that have brought Arsenal the swashbuckling victories upon which their current swagger and hype are built.

If the Gunners are not weary, they should be able to do more than avoid losing 3-0 to Napoli. Manchester City will be a more interesting test next weekend.


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