Preview by Numbers: Napoli v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 6

Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Wednesday, December 11
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT

  • Match Officials from Hungary
    • Referee: Viktor Kassai
    • Assistants: Gyorgy Ring and Vencel Toth
    • 4th Official: Robert Kispal
    • Additional Assistants: Tamas Bognar and Sandor Szabo
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Napoli
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-W-L-W-W
  • Napoli's European Form: L // W-L-W-W-L
  • Weather: Clear, 9 C / 49 F
Usually we've had three or four of these pictures by this
point in the season.
As Sean's Everton recap stated, opinion is divided about 60-40 regarding the outcome of that match, with the larger portion thinking it was better than nothing against a good side and the smaller portion feeling it was an opportunity wasted. It's always hard to lose points, especially from a winning position, but the difference is five points clear in the league instead of seven. If, back in August, we were told Arsenal would be five points clear at this juncture, I think we'd all be a little skeptical of the validity of such information.

Anyway, the Champions League gives us a chance to switch gears a little bit, with a trip to Manchester looming at the weekend. Here's how the qualification picture looks:

If Arsenal wins: Arsenal win the group with 15 points. Dortmund finish second regardless of their result in Marseille, as they have the tie-breaker over Napoli.

If Napoli wins: Both Arsenal and Napoli would have 12 points. Dortmund would finish on 12 points as well, if they beat Marseille. The three-way tie-breaker is head-to-head results in matches played between the three sides. Arsenal will qualify for the knockout phase as long as they hold the goal difference tie-breaker over Napoli. Napoli must win by three clear goals to advance via the tie-breaker; Arsenal have not lost a match by a scoreline that heavy over their last 92 matches.

If the match is drawn: Arsenal win the group with 13 points. Napoli will finish with 10 points and only advance if Dortmund loses to Marseille, because again, Dortmund have the tie-breaker over Napoli.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sagna (hamstring,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)

Poldi's not available yet, but he has been around to
smile and give thumbs up during training.
Not pictured: Smile or thumbs up.
It's "as you were" again in terms of available players. Bacary Sagna is still missing with a tight hamstring, Lukas Podolski is back in full training but short of fitness, and the rest are still out.

As a result, yet again, the discussion comes down to rotation. I'd consider giving Aaron Ramsey a rest, maybe even Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla as well. Then again, what the hell do I know? In a road game where the opposition will be gunning to score and score many from the opening whistle, I'd set up the midfield to both absorb some pressure (that means I'd like Mathieu Flamini to start) and be capable of counter-attacking if Napoli leave themselves exposed at the back (that means I'd like Theo Walcott and his pace to start, provided he's fit to do so.)

Whoever comes out at that point is a bit of a guessing game, when you consider the options available for the midfield: Mikel Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, and Walcott are eight names for five positions.

On the other hand, Arsene Wenger said "we can't afford to rest players," adding that "we have no major sign of fatigue, medically." So, that's good, right?

Napoli Squad News

Out: Hamsik (foot,) Zuniga (knee,) Mesto (knee)

So, it has come to this...
Three of the 11 players who started for Napoli at the Emirates on Matchday 2 are unavailable through injury for tonight's encounter: Juan Zuniga has not played since that match with a knee injury, Giandomenico Mesto has been out since early November with a knee injury of his own, and it appears Marek Hamsik will not be able to return from a foot injury he picked up against Parma on November 23.

One player who was unavailable on Matchday 2 but should be available tonight, however, is former Arsenal transfer target Gonzalo Higuain, who has 10 goals and 6 assists on the season, between Serie A and the Champions League. On December 2 against Lazio, Higuain scored twice; they were his first goals from open play since September 22.

With Napoli expected to be chasing goals, Arsenal will have to watch for their attacking quartet, including Higuain up top, Goran Pandev just behind him, with Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens or Lorenzo Insigne on the wings.

Current Form

Arsenal led once and ended level at the weekend, but
Napoli led twice and ended with two points dropped too.
With some big fixtures up ahead, Arsenal will hope that their 1-1 draw with Everton at the weekend is merely a hiccup on their way to bigger and better results. The draw snapped a four match winning streak across all competitions, which was, astonishingly, only their second streak of such length this season. Still, Arsenal have yet to go two matches without a win all season and they have not done so since cup losses to Blackburn Rovers and Bayern Munich last February.

Napoli, on the other hand, have just one win in their last five. Just before the November international break, Napoli lost to now-Serie A leading Juventus 3-0. They then lost 1-0 to Parma and 3-1 to Dortmund before bouncing back with a 4-2 win over 12th place Lazio. At the weekend, Napoli drew 14th place Udinese 3-3 at home, surrendering the lead on two separate occasions. Currently third in Serie A, Napoli plays fourth place Inter Milan at home on Sunday.

Napoli would need a three goal victory for Arsenal to miss qualification; the home side have won by that scoreline twice so far this season, though both were against Serie A sides currently facing relegation: 19th place Bologna and 18th place Livorno.

Match Facts

Ozil's goal against Napoli opened his Arsenal account.
These two sides met in this summer's Emirates Cup, with Napoli's early two goal lead wiped out by Arsenal in the second half; the match ended drawn 2-2. Matchday 2 saw the first competitive meeting between the two clubs. Arsenal struck twice within the first quarter of an hour, with Mesut Ozil scoring in the 8th minute and Olivier Giroud scoring in the 15th; the Gunners put it on cruise control from there and won 2-0.

In 13 previous matches on Italian soil, Arsenal have won five times, lost four times, and drawn four times. Arsenal's last trip to Italy went poorly, as they lost to AC Milan 4-0 in the first leg of the 2012 Round of 16 (more on that in the referee section below.) Earlier in that season, Arsenal won 2-1 in Udine to beat Udinese 3-1 on aggregate in the qualifier play-off. Prior to that, Arsenal's last trip to Italy was in 2009, when they lost 1-0 to Roma, forcing the tie to a penalty shootout, which the Gunners won 7-6.

Napoli are unbeaten at home in three previous matches against English sides. In the 2010 Europa League group stage, they drew Liverpool 0-0 (they later lost 3-1 at Anfield.) In the 2011 Champions League group stage, they defeated Manchester City 2-1. Later in that year's competition, in the Round of 16, they defeated Chelsea in the first leg 3-1. Chelsea went on to win the tie in extra time at Stamford Bridge, then went on to win the tournament.

The Referee

Kassai's crew erroneously disallowed this goal. I don't
remember the build-up, but look how far out of the net
Joe Hart is!
The match officials are from Hungary; the referee is Viktor Kassai. Arsenal have never won a match with Kassai as the referee, losing 2-0 at Braga in the 2010 group stage and losing 4-0 in Milan in the 2012 Round of 16. Kassai made some brutal calls against Arsenal in both of those matches. So, you know on average, that's a 3-0 Arsenal loss which would likely see them out of the competition... On the other hand, the only Napoli match he's worked in his career was a 2-0 loss for the Italian side against Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League in February. Given this track record, everyone will lose tonight. Of course, it doesn't work that way.

Kassai, despite what Arsenal have seen from him, is one of Europe's top referees and has worked a large number of big matches in his career, including the 2008 Olympic gold medal game (where Argentina beat Nigeria,) a 2010 World Cup semi-final (where Spain beat Germany,) and the 2011 Champions League Final (where Barcelona beat Manchester United.)

In the 2012 Euro tournament, he worked a controversial match between England and Ukraine, where a lack of goal-line technology meant John Terry's goal line clearance was ruled no goal when one should have counted. Ukraine was also offside in the build-up, which just makes the whole controversy even more ridiculous. On both missed calls, however, it was Kassai's crew that failed him (the linseman on the offside and the additional assistant on the goal line play.)

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Manchester United 1 - 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Tuesday: Real Sociedad 0 - 1 Bayer Leverkusen
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen 0 - 2 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Galatasaray v. Juventus abandoned due to weather
  • Tuesday: Benfica 2 - 1 Paris St. Germain
  • Tuesday: Olympiacos 3 - 1 Anderlecht
  • Tuesday: Bayern Munich 2 - 3 Manchester City
  • Tuesday: Viktoria Plzen 2 - 1 CSKA Moscow
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Steaua Bucuresti; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Schalke 04 v. Basel; Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
  • Wednesday: Marseille v. Borussia Dortmund; Stade Velodrome, Marseille
  • Wednesday: Atletico Madrid v. Porto; Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid
  • Wednesday: Austria Wien v. Zenit St. Petersburg; Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna
  • Wednesday: AC Milan v. Ajax; San Siro, Milan
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. Celtic; Camp Nou, Barcelona