Dec 11, 2013, 4:43 PM EDT
One good club from Group F, a real heavyweight of a foursome, was bound to be odd team out on Wednesday as Champions League group play finished with a high-wire tension.
As it turned out, it was the victorious side from inside Napoli’s aged Stadio San Paolo that turned into the unlucky bunch.
A 2-0 win for Napoli over Arsenal was a result the English club could live with, although just barely, but it wasn’t enough to push Rafa Benitez’s club from Italy into next year’s knockout rounds.
Gonzalo Higuain’s second half goal was enough for the time being – it was a strike that would have sent both teams through with the other group match temporarily deadlocked. But when Dortmund scored near the end in the South of France, prevailing over Marseille, that was that for the Napoli, having been so desperate to remain in the competition after such a long absence.
Not even Jose Callejon’s late, late goal was enough, producing the final two-goal margin, but still not sufficient for Napoli.
The night had a certain edge, with Arsenal needing something better than a 2-0 loss to do what Arsenal does under Arsene Wenger: progress into the Champions League knockout round. Meanwhile, Napoli needed to win by more 2-0 or hope for something good from the Marseille-Dortmund contest, and where the pileup of a group table would be finally be revealed.
Benitez’s Napoli had lots of bite, and Belgian international Dries Mertens was on top of his game, with lots of creativity and hustle-bustle along the right for the Italian team. Napoli kept the ball in Arsenal’s end but couldn’t quite unlock a defense where center backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were big cops on the beat.
In fact, the most nervy Gunners moment before intermission was their own poor doings. Koscielny rolled a ball to goalkeeper Szczesny, who tried to get clever. Rather than crushing the ball forward, he attempted a little pass out to the wing. It bounced off Higuain, who was nearly able to direct it into goal.
The home team frustration grew as the opportunity for opportunities diminished, and by the 35th minute Mertens and Blerim Dzemaili had yellow cards, mostly a response to the persistent midfield fouling meant to slow Arsenal’s lethal counter.
Napoli pressed on, closer and closer to the breakthrough after the break. Pablo Armero broke through on the left and Callejon on the right, just a few minutes apart, but neither could do well enough with their shooting efforts.
In the 70th minute, Higuain was set free inside the 18, but he shot high, too.
Finallly, in the 73rd, Higuain had a moment of brilliance. The entry pass was good enough, but the Argentine forward’s piece of technical craft, the spin and shot to the far post at such high speed, was something to behold.
Arsenal’s job got harder in the 76th when Mikel Arteta, having already been booked, collected his second foul for a tough midfield foul. The Gunners did concede a second, but it was deep enough into injury time that it really was academic.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud.
On the bench: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Bendtner
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Armero; Dzemaili, Behrami; Callejón, Pandev, Mertens; Higuain.
On the bench: Colombo, Uvini, Britos, Isigne, Cannovaro, Inler, Zapata
Apr 23, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT
Tedious Tiki-Taka, counter-attacking clinic and gilt-edge chances:
Apr 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Striker’s 19th minute score gives the nine-time champions a 1-0 lead ahead of next week’s second leg.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
Find out who won the PL Player of the Week award, right here:
Apr 23, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT
Which players made the PL team of the week? Find out, right here:
Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
The top two remain unchanged, but there’s a major shakeup in elsewhere near the top of our weekly rankings.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Andrew Dykstra wants to brew you a beer, and several teams have specific offerings in mind.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
The big guns will be firing for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, and there’s plenty of ammunition on both benches if needed.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Reports say David Moyes was “seething” at what he perceived to be an unprofessional dismissal from Manchester United.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
Bad news for England, as Januzaj is headed for a brand new Belgium kit.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage
Apr 23, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT
Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s SI Now, Donovan spent some time lauding David Moyes and lamenting his dismissal from Manchester United.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
He’s simply one of the worst that’s ever played.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
Shola Ameobi has played a lot of roles during his time at Newcastle; His latest role is vocal critic of the club’s transfer practices.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
The USMNT midfielder posted this shot to his Instagram account on Tuesday, proclaiming his new stars and stripes knee tattoo complete.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
The Champions League will make Liverpool more attractive, says its managing director, and the club will spend money to fortify its team.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT
Paul Scholes joined former teammates Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt as Manchester United prepared for this week’s match vs Norwich
Apr 23, 2014, 7:32 AM EDT
This is a massive break for the Blaugranas and will no doubt be met with consternation by its rivals.
Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title
Apr 23, 2014, 6:12 AM EDT
Bayern is two steps away from back-to-back titles. Real Madrid’s the same distance from its decima.
Apr 22, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
Ferguson has kept quiet during the club’s latest transition, but according to reporting Tuesday night, he’ll play a part in finding David Moyes’ replacement.
Apr 22, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
With injuries forcing his hand, the Blues’ boss wants to concentrate on Champions League.
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