Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of the Europa League quarter-final second leg between Napoli and Arsenal.
If Carlo Ancelotti is searching for positives from last week’s opening 90 minutes in North London, the biggest of the lot is that his side are still in with a shout of progressing.
A two-goal deficit will not be easy to overturn, of course, but Arsenal had chances to added a third and all but kill off the tie. Napoli had opportunities of their own in the English capital, but Petr Cech only had two saves to make and 2-0 flattered the lacklustre visitors.
Ancelotti is a three-time Champions League winning manager and he is still “confident” of lifting UEFA’s secondary competition for the first time. For that to happen, the 1989 UEFA Cup winners need to do something they have not managed since that famous campaign three decades ago – overturn a first-leg deficit.
The last eight times they have trailed heading into the second leg of a major European knockout match they have crashed out, stretching back to a 3-2 aggregate victory over Juventus after losing 2-0 in the opening 90 minutes.
A lot more was expected of Napoli after dropping down to the Europa League as the best third-placed side from the Champions League group phase. The Partenopei accrued nine points in a tough group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool, as well as Red Star Belgrade, but defeat to the Reds at Anfield on the final matchday saw them pipped at the post.
Arsenal presented a far tougher test in last week’s first leg, though, and Ancelotti’s men now have 90 minutes to rescue their season. Despite Juventus’s slip-up at the weekend, the Scudetto is well out of Napoli’s reach and the best they can hope for is second, leaving just the Europa League available to them.
Napoli are unbeaten at home in Europe this term, winning four of their five matches, scoring 10 goals and conceding just two. In the Europa League group phase their record stands at 10 wins, five draws and two defeats
Winning alone will not be enough on Thursday, however, as they need to score at least twice. After stuttering of late with only one win in their last four, the heat really is on for this huge tie.
Recent form in Europa League: WWWLL
Recent form (all competitions): WWLDLW
Unai Emery knew the importance of his side taking a victory of any sort to Naples, ideally by more than a one-goal margin. That his side delivered by producing an impressive display in the first leg means that a semi-final spot is theirs to lose.
The Gunners have performed a lot better on home soil this term than away, winning just two of 12 matches on their travels ahead of that first leg – against Blackpool in the FA Cup and Huddersfield Town in the Premier League.
That run includes defeats away to BATE Borisov and Rennes in the first two knockout rounds of the Europa League, though they recovered on both occasions to keep Emery on course for a fourth triumph in the competition.
After suffering a humbling 1-0 loss to BATE, Arsenal hit back with a straightforward 3-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium. Then came a 3-1 loss to Rennes, which they again overturned by claiming another 3-0 win in front of their own supporters.
Relying on their home form can only take them so far, but the North London outfit did pick up a much-needed away-day win on Monday evening as they saw off Watford at Vicarage Road through a fortunate goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
That win lifted Arsenal back into fourth place in the Premier League, leaving them firmly in the hunt for Champions League football. Neither competition has taken priority so far, but progression to the semi-finals of the Europa League will surely change that.
Arsenal’s 2-0 win in the first leg was the 17th occasion they have won the first leg of a major European knockout match by two or more goals – they have progressed on each of the previous 16 occasions.
Everything points towards a place in the last four for Emery’s men, matching their achievement from last season under Arsene Wenger, and should they go one better then this can be considered a hugely encouraging first campaign for the new man at the Emirates helm.
Recent form in Europa League: WLWLWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWW
Emery said he does not expect the Uruguayan midfielder to spend any time on the sidelines, but he may err on the side of caution as Matteo Guendouzi is also available.
Alexandre Lacazette did not play any part against Watford and is almost certain to start Thursday’s match. Emery must decide whether to use the Frenchman up top on his own or partner him with Aubameyang, which seems unlikely considering goals are not a priority.
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Hysaj, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Rui; Callejon, Allan, Ruiz, Zielinski; Insigne, Milik
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Ozil; Lacazette
Head To Head
The Partenopei have won five of their seven home fixtures against Premier League opposition, including 1-0 against Liverpool in this season’s Champions League group stage thanks to Insigne’s 90th-minute strike.
They also overcame Swansea City 3-1 in Naples to win their 2013-14 UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie by the same aggregate score, but their only other two-legged tie against Premier League opposition ended in defeat after extra time against Chelsea in the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League last 16.
Arsenal’s last away match in Italy was at the last 16 stage of last season’s Europa League, winning 2-0 against AC Milan at San Siro.
We say: Napoli 1-0 Arsenal (1-2)
Napoli have a good home record in Europe and Arsenal have been poor away from home, their win at Watford aside, pretty much all season long. The Gunners may well have done enough in the first leg to make sure of a place in the semi-finals, though, even if they suffer a defeat on the night at the atmospheric Stadio San Paolo.