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Napoli vs. Arsenal: Gunners Can't Be Complacent Despite Strong Odds to Advance

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Napoli vs. Arsenal: Gunners Can't Be Complacent Despite Strong Odds to Advance
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

You could hardly blame Arsenal for being complacent heading into their final Champions League group-stage game against Napoli. After all, the odds of advancing for the Gunners is extremely high.

But taking the Italians lightly would be a grave, grave mistake.

All the Gunners have to do in this game is avoid losing by three or more goals. If they win, they top the group. If they draw, they top the group. Heck, if Arsenal lose to Napoli by a score of 4-3, they are guaranteed to win the group.

And even if they lose by two goals or fewer, they'll advance, though in that scenario, Borussia Dortmund would win Group F. Again, you can see why the Gunners might take their foot off the gas pedal a bit.

But, in fact, they would be better served coming out aggressively and taking the game to Napoli as much as possible in the early going. With the Italian side sure to be pressing and desperate for an early goal, the Gunners should have some excellent opportunities for an early goal.

And while a three-goal advantage is a huge plus, a four-goal head start would basically be insurmountable.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Regardless of how the Gunners approach the game tactically, Napoli promise to make the proceedings interesting. Gonzalo Higuain (seven Serie A goals), Jose Callejon (seven) and Goran Pandev (six) provide Napoli with a serious goalscoring threat and are capable of combining on the attack to blitzkrieg even the steadiest of defenses.

The big loss for Napoli, however, is that  Marek Hamsik (six Serie A goals) will miss the game to injury, according to Sky Sports, as will starting keeper Pepe Reina. Of course, Arsenal will be without starting right-back Bacary Sagna, which means youngster Carl Jenkinson will be pressed into action.

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The biggest advantage Napoli have in this contest is the one their supporters provide for them, as the Italians have lost just once and drawn twice in all competitions at Stadio San Paolo. Naples is an extremely difficult place to try and steal points for any club.

And the Gunners have to avoid looking ahead on the schedule, with Manchester City and Chelsea on tap in the Premier League, two of the teams gunning for Arsenal's top spot on the table. If the Gunners don't get up for this game and instead look ahead to City, Napoli will smoke them.

Arsenal has generally handled big tests thus far this season with aplomb. They responded to a loss at home against Borussia Dortmund by beating them in Germany. They completely dominated Napoli in London, 2-0. They've beaten Liverpool and Tottenham already and drew with a dangerous Everton side.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Since a disappointing loss to Aston Villa to start the season, they've only fallen to Manchester United, Dortmund and Chelsea (albeit in a Capital One Cup tie when they started a slew of reserves). 

The point is simple—generally, the Gunners have responded to the big tests and tough matchups laid in front of them. They've really gelled as a team, have overcome a litany of early-season injuries and have show a lot of mental toughness throughout the year.

In other words, it's hard to imagine this team somehow losing by three or more goals. As long as they don't take Napoli lightly, they should handle their business, even if that means a loss.

 

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