Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Bendtner
Arsenal did just enough to secure safe passage to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, although their 2-0 defeat away at Napoli allowed Borussia Dortmund to leapfrog them into first place in the table.
Gonzalo Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne scored for the Italians either side of Mikel Arteta’s second half red card but it wasn’t enough for the Serie A side despite the fact they too finished on 12 points.
The first half was a very tight and scrappy affair from the off. Roared on by a fervent home support, Napoli came out of the traps quickly obviously told by Rafael Benitez to press high up the pitch.
It initially proved effective, Gibbs and Jenkinson each conceded possession in the first ten minutes allowing Napoli to break quickly. First Pandev shot low after Mertens’ raking cross-field pass before Mertesacker made a last ditch interception to stop Armero’s ball reaching Higuain.
We created the best chance of the half on 22 minutes. A neat passage of play involving Ozil and Flamini freed Giroud in the box, but from a tight angle on the left he could only hammer his effort straight at keeper Rafael.
After that the game was a succession of offsides and free-kicks. It wasn’t a case of the referee and his assistants being whistle happy, there was just a lot of fouls by both sides breaking up play.
Rosicky, Flamini and Arteta gave as good as they got, but they, Ozil and Cazorla also got picked off from behind and across the body on numerous occasions. Belgian Dries Mertens and Swiss Blerim Džemaili both got deserved yellows.
Despite Mertesacker and Koscielny impressing there were a couple of hair-raising moments before the break. Maggio, taking advantage of bad positioning by Gibbs, latched onto a ball on the right wing only to loop a ball over the advancing Szczesny.
The Pole then nearly gifted Higuain the opener when his lazy clipped ball was instinctively headed goalwards by Higuain. Thankfully the Argentine’s effort creeped past the post.
Ozil had a sighter at the start of the second half before a hectic ten-minute spell in which the ball blustered from end-to-end without the scoreline ever being threatened.
When the left-back Armero did get behind Jenkinson his tame shot at Szczesny was met with howls from the terraces. Napoli continued to look menacing with the bright Callejon flashing an effort just wide and pint-sized substitute Insigne all darting runs and impish energy
Arteta and Giroud picked up innocuous bookings before Aaron Ramsey came on for Cazorla with 23 minutes remaining. Six minutes later Napoli got the breakthrough.
Higuain had scuffed his lines moments earlier but given the ball on the edge of the box by Callejon he spun on a sixpence and hammered a low effort low across Szczesny. It was an excellent goal. The type of goal you pay big money for.
Rosicky was immediately replaced by Nacho Monreal as Wenger looked to shut up shop; a nice idea until Mikel Arteta picked up a second yellow within a minute of the restart for another innocuous challenge in the centre of the park.
The last ten minutes were as much about events at the Stade Velodrome in France where Borussia Dortmund were looking to secure a victory over Marseille. With three minutes left on the clock the Germans got the goal which saw them leapfrog the Gunners and even though Insigne looped in an injury-time strike to double Napoli’s lead it wasn’t enough to prevent heartbreak on the terraces of the Stadio San Paolo.
As the referee blew for full-time Arsene Wenger didn’t know whether to smile or not. He’d watch his side come very close to throwing away all their hard work with a performance which for 73 minutes was textbook. A strange evening but one which ends with us qualifying from the group stage of UEFA’s showpiece tournament for the fourteenth successive season.7,172 views