Napoli witnessed a situation suitable only for the vaunted ‘Group of Death’ come about in failing to secure a positive result away to Dortmund a fortnight ago, as even a victory over the Gunners and 12 points could prove not enough to more on the Champions League’s knockout stages.
A triumph by the Germans against winless Marseille in tandem would give rise to head-to-head records and goal difference as tiebreakers, areas in which Rafael Benitez’s side are at a disadvantage heading into matchday six.
And Higuain, whose near move to the Emirates over the summer from Real Madrid was well-documented and is still making waves, believes his side must keep their heads down and go to work, but have nonetheless been victims of outrageous circumstances.
“We have to just think about winning our tie,” he said to Sky Sport 24. “If we win and still go out with 12 points then that will just be misfortune.
“I’ve never seen a side go out of the competition with nine or 12 points – this is really a horrible situation.”
The club’s pain in Europe has been compounded by mediocre results on the domestic front of late, as Napoli squandered a 2-0 lead at the weekend in Serie A and have won just once in their last four in the Italian top flight.
Yet eight points back and potentially on the brink of an early Champions League exit, the Argentine maintains faith in the side that put up £34.5 to beat Wednesday’s opponents to his signature.
“We can win a title this season. We want to make the fans happy,” he continued.
“This is a really important week for us, but we need to remain calm and get to Wednesday with a cool head and a hot heart.
“This will give us the possibility to win the game. We’ll look at what is happening in Marseille, but we can’t worry too much about what others are doing.”
Napoli’s Champions League campaign is now a far cry away from the auspicious start gleaned from a cracking 2-1 victory over Dortmund on September 18, in which Higuain scored the opener to send Benitez’s charges on their way.
Despite having kept the pace in Group F a lack of defensive solidity, and at times profligacy from the Argentine himself, have placed the Partenopei into an awkward situation that will require a series of unlikely events to remedy midweek.
Higuain didn’t get to have his say when Napoli succumbed to a comprehensive defeat to Arsenal earlier in the group stage at the Emirates, a late scratch due to a knock, but this time around will have the opportunity to haunt his former suitors and stake his claim as superior to Olivier Giroud.
Would it be fair to say that Higuain regrets making the switch to southern Italy instead of north London? Certainly not. Nobody had foreseen the Gunners’ success and he is a member of an ambitious squad with a head coach that, whilst often maligned, has a brilliant record in European competition.
And to boot, Arsenal wouldn’t quite be the same team had the Argentine joined up in a big money move, as the likelihood of Mesut Ozil’s capture in the aftermath would’ve been severely diminished.
Candidly, hypothetical situations are better left the mathematicians and prognosticators. Football, on the other hand, has a unique way of unfolding that more often than not doesn’t fall within the confines of logic and reason.
The end is yet to be seen for Napoli, for Higuain, in Europe. Arsenal now face a tough trip to a notoriously hostile San Paolo, and a Dortmund in mini-crisis could still be in for a shock against a Marseille side that one has to think has some part to play in Group F other than a laughingstock.
Worried or not, the ex-Real Madrid striker will be given the opportunity to leave his mark between the two clubs that battled for his services on the market. Because after all, moments like these were the reason both sides wanted him, weren’t they?
image: © Jan S0l0