Today’s Champions League match against Italian side Napoli shapes up to be an exciting prospect. Both teams are experiencing a great run of form and are extremely high on confidence. To top it off, this Champions League tie, while only the second round of the group phase, certainly has an air of importance about it. There is a sizable advantage up for grabs with each of the teams already on three points and looking extend their lead at the top of a tough group.
Firstly, looking at Arsenal, it was good to hear that there were no new injuries from the match at the weekend against Swansea. Their victory at the weekend extended their amazing winning run away from home and also recorded their 9th win on the trot in all competitions. It is extremely unlikely Wenger will be resting any players from his strongest eleven for this tie and you feel Arsenal will need a very strong starting eleven to claim victory. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that the line-up will remain largely unchanged from the weekend.
While Tomas Rosicky returns to the squad after recovering from a thigh injury, it is hard to say whether he will start the match. Although Serge Gnarby has played three matches in quick succession, he has looked excellent playing on the right and was duly rewarded for his efforts with his first Premier League goal. The more likely option would be to give Jack Wilshere a breather with the Englishman putting in big shifts on the wing. If Wilshere does start however, expect Rosicky to replace him in the latter stages of the match.
On the other side of the coin, Napoli are experiencing their own run of form after recording a solitary draw and five wins in Serie A so far. When you add to this their victory against Dortmund, we can effectively say that Napoli are the first ‘big’ team Arsenal will have come up against this season. They have bought well in the transfer market and look to be flourishing under the guidance of former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafael Benetiz.
One key battle I am certainly looking forward to is Koscielny against Higuain. I loved Koscielny’s attitude when Higuain played against Arsenal in the Emirates Cup. He absolutely dominated the Argentine striker and made a point of shutting him down at every opportunity. Now Higuain has settled in at his new club, it will be very interesting to see how round two pans out. I am certainly hoping for another Bosscielny performance!
Looking at other players, expect the likes of Ramsey and Giroud to be influential in the match. I am also hopeful Ozil gets more opportunities to shine after having a relatively low-key performance at the weekend. Napoli, on the other hand, will be looking to utilise the likes of Higuain and Insigne to initiate their fast and effective counter-attacking game.
Overall, it is very hard to pick what team is going to come out on top. Owing to Arsenal’s current nine-game winning streak and also the fact they are playing at home, I will have to say the boys in red will edge out the visitors or at the very least gain a valuable point. Expect Napoli to try soak up the pressure on defence and then break fast on the counter. Like all important games, the first goal will be crucial to the outcome of the match!
Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker (c) Gibbs
Arsenal 2 Napoli 1