Napoli - Higuan 73′, Callejon 90′
Napoli: Cabral; Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Armero; Dzemaili, Behrami; Callejon, Pandev (Insigne 57), Mertens; Higuain.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini; Rosicky (Monreal 75), Ozil, Cazorla (Ramsey 67); Giroud.
In a tough tie, Arsenal ultimately were unable to secure top spot in Group F. While advancing to their 14th straight Champions League Knockout Stage should be celebrated, I can’t help but regret the missed opportunity to grab first place in the group. After beating Marseille 2-0 at The Emirates on Matchday 5, this should be seen as a disappointment, but an accomplishment nonetheless.
Arsenal needed to secure at least a point in Naples on this night, or see Borussia Dortmund gain anything other than three in Marseille to claim top spot. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as two late Napoli goals and a thrilling escape victory for Dortmund assigned Arsenal to second place.
Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli all finished level at twelve points, yet Napoli are eliminated due to goal differential. It’s the highest point total a squad eliminated in the Group Stage of the Champions League has ever had.
A tough tie in Naples, Italy saw Arsenal lose 2-0 , yet secure their spot in the next stage of the Champions League. In a cagey affair, Arsenal and Napoli traded half-chances and opportunities, with Arsenal attempting to batter down the hatches and secure their spot.
A goal from Gonzalo Higuain on 73 minutes, however, changed the match. The Argentine struck past Wojciech Szczęsny with a low shot from Jose Callejon’s pass. Three minutes after that, Mikel Arteta was sent off with a second yellow card. Getting a result in Naples thus became an even tougher challenge.
At that point, Dortmund were still drawing their game in Marseille at that point, so Napoli coach Rafael Benetiz was torn in defending their lead and securing three points, or going all out for three goals to eliminate the goal differential problem. It created a hostile environment on the pitch and in the stands.
Dortmund’s winning goal in the eighty-seventh minute in Marseille ultimately spread around the ground. Napoli sprang into attack, with Callejon’s late shot past Szczesny meeting low celebration. Benitez’s side were eliminated and for Arsenal were resigned to muted celebrations in securing their spot.
This had been a tough assignment but Wenger’s succeeded in advancing. They face a difficult draw for the Knockout Stages however, as they face drawing Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Paris St. Germain.
With the level of Arsenal’s play this campaign, however, it will be one of these top teams dismayed to draw Arsenal over two legs. The draw for the Knockout Stage is December 16th, when we find out a lot more about Arsenal’s hopes to reach further into the Champions League.