We can’t go out and play without nail-biting moments, can we?
Instead of taking something from the warmest stadium in Italy against the opponents that haven’t been the best when it comes to defending this season, we conceded two goals in the second half and our captain Mikel Arteta picked up two yellow cards. Given that Borussia Dortmund won at the Velodrome against Olympique Marseille (as expected), we ended the Group Stage as runners-up which means we’ll get tough opponents in the First Knockout Stage – it will be someone out of three Spanish clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid), PSG or Bayern München.
Here are some pointers from the match against Napoli.
1. Szczesny should expel all sorts of exhibitions.
It happened again – we were almost punished in the first half by Higuain after Szczesny had failed to make a decent clearance.
2. Giroud should wear his shooting boots against City and Chelsea.
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It would be too harsh on the Frenchman to forget it was him that scored a match-winning brace against Southampton and that he has scored against both Napoli and Borussia Dortmund this season. However, he hasn’t scored in the last three matches and misses in those matches look ugly when the result doesn’t look well at the end.
We’ll need Giroud as a goal-scorer against City and Chelsea. Giroud himself will need a goal in those matches in order to prove to his doubters that he can score in big matches, especially against City as he might want to prove that he can be a deadly striker outside of London too. And, those two matches are not just big – they are going to be huge!
3. We missed Walcott.
Most of the problems to our team happened on the flanks, especially in the second half when Insigne came in. Jenkinson couldn’t cope with Armero’s overlaps and Insigne’s runs while Gibbs didn’t have the best match of his career neither. When Napoli started with their storm in the middle of the second half, we needed Walcott’s pace for both fast counter-attacks and in order to keep Armero on the back foot. Instead of introducing Walcott, Wenger opted for flooding the midfield with Ramsey but it didn’t pan out well.
4. We missed Sagna.
Jenkinson can’t replace Sagna’s physical presence and the Frenchman’s ability to make quality runs forward. It’s one of my biggest worries ahead of the match against Manchester City given that Jenkinson will have to start in that match too.
5. Arteta and Flamini together don’t work too well.
Apart from our victory in the reverse fixture and their first half performance, Arteta and Flamini haven’t been the best combination in the middle of the park. Flamini adds aggression, it’s true, while Arteta adds elegance and passing but something is missing when neither Ramsey nor Wilshere feature in the heart of our midfield. Either of them would add dynamism to our midfield and make things easier for Rosicky, Özil, Cazorla and Giroud.
6. Monreal should start against Manchester City.
Nacho has better positioning and defending skills than Gibbs (who has been outstanding this season). That is extremely important given that Pellegrini will probably start with dangerous Jesus Navas on the right wing.
7. Arteta won’t play in the first leg of the Knockout Stage.
Our captain has picked two red cards this season and this one will prevent him from facing our opponents in the first leg of the Knockout Stage. After a tidy first half, he was all over the place in the second and picked two naive yellow cards.
8. We missed a trick with Higuain.
The Argentinian is a world-class finisher and let’s hope we won’t regret at the end of the season for not signing him. His absence from the reverse fixture at the Emirates might have been something that saved our place in the Knockout Stage.
9. Hopefully Higuain is the only world-class Argentinian to score against us this week.
Sergio Aguero is one of the best strikers in the world and our defense will have to keep him at bay if we want a positive result. That will require a much better performance from the whole team.
10. Özil and Cazorla haven’t clicked yet.
This mouth-watering link hasn’t reached the desired level.
11. Kassai was unlucky to us again…and unfair.
When we lost to Braga (2:0) in 2010-11 and lost the top spot in the Group Stage to Shakhtar, Kassai was a referee. He didn’t have the best performance then and he most certainly didn’t excel tonight neither. He should have given a foul in our favour at the end of the first half when Flamini was body-checked by two Napoli players just outside of the box. It should have been a direct free-kick for us from a very promising position. We didn’t get it.
So, we lost the top spot in our group and we’ll have to face some big guns in the Knockout Stage. That is not good news, but if we want to win the Champions League, we have to beat the best teams in Europe anyway. What worries me is that we’ll have to face very strong opponents in February and March. If we play our opponents in the First Leg of the Knockout Stage on 18th or 19th February 2014, that match will come very soon after matches against Liverpool (8th February) and Manchester United (12th February). And, if we play the second leg (away match) in 18th or 19th March, we’ll have to play Bayern/PSG/Barcelona/Real/Atletico between away matches against the Spuds (15th March) and Chavs (22nd March)! And those three matches will be followed by the home match against Manchester City (29th March) and the away match against Everton (5th April)!
This defeat, in a way, might complicate both our domestic and European campaign. Hopefully, our players will bounce back from it and show the form that got them on the top spot in the Premiership at the first place!