Arsenal were defeated by two goals to nil by Napoli in their final group game of the Champions League in a nail-biting final ten minutes as, on top of the dismissal of Mikel Arteta, the Gunners knew that if they conceded a third, they would be eliminated prior to the knockout phase.
Goals from one-time Arsene Wenger target Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon gave the Partenopei a fighting chance, but Callejon's second was ultimately the last move of the match and so were prevented from obtaining the third.
'[It was a] strange atmosphere because we lost by far today, we were always on the back-foot,' said defender Per Mertesacker in an honest appraisal given to Sky Sports immediately after the final whistle. 'We took a little break but we will be back on Saturday.'
Before the match, Wenger warned his players the threat that Higuain posed and not to allow him room in the penalty-box. If the Arsenal defence were to contain the Argentine, then they would need to marshal him away from the danger-area.
Space inside the box was precisely what Higuain was afforded on the 72nd minute as Callejon assisted the former Real Madrid striker who turned, beat his marker, entered the area and shot low to slip the ball past Wojciech Szczesny.
Summarising why Arsenal lost this evening, December 11 at the Stadio San Paolo, Mertesacker said simply that it was exactly what the club deserved due to their effort level: 'We gave 10% less mentally. We were thinking we were through. We deserved that. We're second on the group.'
image: © Ronnie Macdonald