Napoli scare raises doubts over Arsenal's Champions League credentials

Arsene Wenger

Arsenal may have survived a scare against Napoli but it leaves serious question marks over whether they can go all the way.

Arsene Wenger was entitled to a large sigh of relief last night as the final whistle prevented Napoli going in search of a third goal that would have eliminated Arsenal.

Needing only to avoid a three-goal reverse at the Stadio San Paolo to progress, Arsenal were pushed to the brink as they fell 2-0 behind, albeit with the final action of the game.

The defeat in Naples leaves Wenger with questions to answer if he is to deliver the coveted Champions League title and a late Borussia Dortmund winner didn't just thwart Napoli, it sets up a tough test for Arsenal.

Napoli away is a challenging fixture but Rafa Benitez's men were not on the greatest of form. Coming into the game on the back of a 3-3 home draw with Udinese and a 1-0 loss to Parma, the San Paolo was looking a lot less like a fortress.

The Azzurri were suffering from a leaky defence, which Arsenal never fully exploited and had been deprived of key playmaker Marek Hamsik due to injury.

And yet Wenger's side couldn't impose themselves on a side that are now well short of Juventus' Scudetto pace, trailing by eight points.

After a 3-0 loss to Juve, Rafa Benitez simply admitted 'they are better than us', yet Napoli were able to overcome Arsenal and push them to the brink of disaster.

The late winner for Borussia Dortmund broke Napoli hearts and also leaves Arsenal's route forward looking less probable.

Rather than taking on Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Schalke, Zenit St Petersburg or AC MIlan, any of which Arsenal would expect to beat, Wenger's men now have a date with one of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain or Atletico Madrid.

Group F had often, rather tiresomely, been labelled the Group of Death in this year's Champions League, but in truth Marseille were short of the pace, leaving three teams to fight for two places.

An off-colour Dortmund still had enough to get through, but the unknown quantity was Napoli whose excellent start to the season has started to fizzle out as the lack of depth in the squad to fight on two fronts has become increasingly apparent.

Napoli ended their campaign to a deserved ovation from their fans with 12 futile points to their name but a defeat at Serie A's third best side doesn't bode well for Arsenal's chances against the real giants of European football.  

image: © Matt and Kim Rudge

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch