But following their 2-0 defeat to Napoli on Wednesday night, the North Londoners progress through to the last 16 of the Champions League second place in their group behind Borussia Dortmund meaning they will face one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain in the next round.
However, whilst that may be either a frustration given their previous position in the group or a blessing simply to make it of out such a tough group – ‘the ‘group of death’ as it was termed – depends on ones viewpoint but, in the meantime, their Champions League ambitions will rest on the backburner as they face Manchester City this Saturday and Chelsea 9 days later.
Arsene Wenger’s side had been at their very best against Napoli at the Emirates – a game in which they had won 3-0 and had been in complete control of from the first whistle but the tables were very much turned upon their trip to Naples this week – it was one of the poorer performances I’ve seen from Arsenal in months.
They seemed a little nervous, a little tired too perhaps and the dismissal of Mikel Arteta 15 minutes from time only served to exacerbate both of those frailties. Arsenal still, however, looked relatively defensively solid for the majority of the game. Gonzalo Higuain’s 73rd minute opener was very much a work of individual brilliance and, for that, there is little fault to be found other than perhaps making it even more difficult for him to turn and shoot the way he did but all credit must go to the Argentine for a very good goal.
The second was a little also a very well-worked move by Napoli, a great pass met with a smooth finish from Callejon but it was by no means the first time Napoli had got in behind the Gunners’ back line. Overall, however, Arsenal gave Napoli far too many chances – if the Italians’ finishing had have been more efficient there could have been four or five goals in the game.
Meanwhile, Arsenal found very little outlet up field – Olivier Giroud was manhandled and kept fairly quiet for the majority of the game and Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil struggled to make their mark in midfield. Arsenal had some very strong spells of possession but they never really threatened the Napoli goal. They had six shots and just one on target over 94 minutes, which isn’t up to their usually impeccably high standards.
It was clear that Arsenal were playing with one eye on Manchester City from Arsene Wenger’s team sheet and it was clear they knew they didn’t have to win the game but, nonetheless, the scare of being very close to not progressing through and now the disappointment of going through in second place may well be just the kind of wake up call the team and squad needs ahead of their Premier League game over the next two weeks.
If they give the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure the kind of chances to play and pass and shoot the way they did on Wednesday they could be in for the kind of result Tottenham endured on their trip to the Etihad where City have scored 29 goals and conceded just two. They have won every single game at home so far this season and its going to take a massive performance to smash that record – even to get a draw up in Manchester is going to need a lot of inspiration.
Meanwhile, if Giroud and Arsenal’s midfielders are as lacklustre as they were for spells on Wednesday they will not breach the City defence which now has Vincent Kompany back in business and City will have an advantage of fitness and preparation having played on Tuesday night and beaten European champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena which, as Arsenal know very well, is not easy.
If anything, the defeat in midweek should serve as not only a warning or a lesson but more of a wake up call to Arsenal who need to focus and take the game to City on Saturday. If they show the nerves and the fatigue and the lack of ideas they did in midweek it won’t make for pleasant viewing for Arsenal fans or the manager on Saturday and it’ll have an impact on their title ambitions too no doubt.
All the pundits and commentators are waiting for Arsenal to slip up and show their vulnerability and that’s exactly what they did on Wednesday – if anything it’s better they get that wake up call now than at the Etihad on Saturday where they take no prisoners – Arsenal must be on the front foot from the first whistle or they’ll find themselves on the back foot all afternoon and potentially on the wrong end of a backside whooping.
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