Arsenal finished as Group F runners-up in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday after falling to a 2-0 away defeat to Napoli. The result means the Gunners will face a very difficult task advancing from the next round as they will now be paired with one of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris St. Germain, or Atletico Madrid in Monday's Round of 16 draw.
Napoli came into the match knowing they had to win big to have any chance of advancing and with the daunting task of an away trip to Manchester City on Saturday in the back of Arsenal minds, the odds were never in the Gunners' favor to come out on top.
Arsenal did well in the first half to keep possession with lots of crisp, one-touch passing, but failed to really trouble Napoli's defense. Napoli, themselves, didn’t create much going forward, but could have gone up a goal one minute before halftime when Wojciech Szczesny's attempted pass out of his goalmouth went straight to Gonzalo Higuain. His header went wide of the Arsenal goal, but could have just as easily crept inside the post.
The second half was quite different, however. Arsenal, knowing that a tie would win the group, attempted to kill the game off without taking risks going forward, but that only invited wave after wave of Napoli pressure. Napoli finally broke through Arsenal’s defense in the 74th minute when Higuain, who nearly joined Arsenal in the summer, turned Per Mertesacker in the box and placed a left footed shot into the bottom corner.
Things only got worse for Arsenal three minutes later when Mikel Arteta was unjustly sent off after receiving a very soft second yellow card. At this point, the Gunners could only do their best to hold on and ensure they at least qualified for the next round. Despite Jose Callejon scoring with nearly the last kick of the match, Arsenal did just enough to advance from what many considered the “Group of Death” in this year’s Champions League. Dortmund, Arsenal, and Napoli all finished with 12 points, but Napoli were the unfortunate side to be eliminated after tiebreakers.
The Champions League will not pick up again until well into the new year, so Arsenal will now be able to turn their full focus to the job at hand in the Premier League. Saturday they travel to title rivals, Manchester City, who have scored 29 goals at home in only seven matches this season. Compare that to only two goals allowed and you see just how difficult getting a result is at the Etihad. Last season Arsenal did escape with a 1-1 draw from this fixture, but in order to emulate that feat they will need to play much better than they did against Napoli. You can tune into the top of the table clash on Saturday morning at 5:40am MT on NBC Sports.