When Arsenal hosted Napoli in their first Champions League clash on October 1, the Gunners put on a clinic, winning 2-0. Arsenal absolutely blitzkrieged Napoli out of the gate, turning heavy pressure and an aggressive attack into two goals within 15 minutes.
From there, the Gunners shifted their mentality, slowing the game down and slowly choking the life out of Napoli for the rest of the match.
Now, with their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread, the Italians need to beat Arsenal and gain some help from Marseille to advance to the knockout phase, while Arsenal need only to avoid losing by a large margin in order to advance.
Can Napoli earn the victory they need? Or will Arsenal bring their A game and ensure at least the draw that will ensure they top the group?
Most importantly, which teams will survive the group of death? Let's break down this crucial Champions League matchup.
When: Wednesday, December 11 at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Where: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
Watch: Fox Sports 1; Fox Soccer 2Go; Sky Sports 2 (U.K.); Sky Go (U.K.)
Okay, let's try to sort out the Group F tiebreakers.
First of all, the simplest scenario is that Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund win and advance. Arsenal need only to draw to guarantee that they win Group F. Likewise, if Arsenal draw and Borussia Dortmund win, the English and German teams will advance.
But if Napoli wins and Borussia Dortmund wins, or if both teams draw, things get tricky.
In the former scenario, all three teams would be in a three-way tie at 12 points. And, all three teams would be tied in the first tiebreaker—points obtained in the matches played between the teams in question—with six points. Likewise in a tie, Napoli and Dortmund each won and lost in their two matchups, taking three points apiece from the series.
Thus, the second tiebreaker would kick in, which is goal differential in the games contested between the teams in question. Here's how the goal differential in those matches stands as of now:
|Goal Differential Tiebreaker|
|Team||Current Goal Differential in Games Between Teams in Question|
Essentially, to get in Napoli will need to beat Arsenal and hope that Dortmund lose or draw. Or, if Dortmund wins, Napoli will need to beat Arsenal by three goals to surpass the Gunners in goal differential. A draw does Napoli no good unless Dortmund loses.
Put simply, Arsenal will be fine so long as they don't lose by three or more goals, Dortmund are in if they win and Napoli will either need to win by more than three goals or hope that Dortmund falters against Marseille (and seeing as Marseille has failed to take a single point in this group, that seems unlikely).
Phew—got all that?
Now, to the game itself. Not surprisingly, with his team's back against the wall, Napoli manager Rafa Benitez has said his team will be in full attacking mode despite what happens in the Dortmund game (via Ben Gladwell of ESPN):
The message to the players will always be to attack. We've got to aim to get the first goal, and then the second goal and so on. If we have to score three, then we've got to score three. If they score then what happens? We've got to get four, and we'll try.
We've got faith in ourselves. We've got to attack, there are no two ways about it. They're a very strong side, but we've still got to attack. We've got nothing to lose. We think it's possible and we'll try to do it.
That won't be easy against an Arsenal side that currently sits five points clear of the pack atop the Premier League table, and previously looked to be in a different class altogether from Napoli in early October.
Bacary Sagna will again miss time for the Gunners and Carl Jenkinson will step into his spot at right-back, while Theo Walcott will be a strong contender to earn a start. Lukas Podolski could also be utilized.
As to the midfield combination, well, it remains to be seen, but with Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini at his disposal, Arsene Wenger has plenty of shiny toys to mix and match as he sees fit.
There are plenty of warning signs for Arsenal in this game. They could approach this game too relaxed with their high likelihood of advancing; they could look ahead to upcoming fixtures in the Premier League against Manchester City and Chelsea, or they could simply underestimate a desperate Napoli side with the frenzied crowd behind them in the Stadio San Paolo.
It all adds up to a Napoli win, but the real question is by how much? Frankly, the Gunners have been too good this season to lose by three or more goals, even on the road. Expect the Italians to get the win, but Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund to advance out of Group F.
Napoli wins, 2-1.
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