It’s time for the Italian job.
We have travelled to Naples with a two goal lead for this Europa League Quarter-Final second leg, and despite our advantage, the feeling surrounding our fans is one of nerves, rather than optimism.
Our first leg showing should have reaped a bigger advantage and with our failure to gain another goal, we have left the door open not for Napoli to fight their way back – but for our away form to rear its ugly head and undermine our efforts to get to the Semi-Final.
We are all painfully aware of the disparity between our home and away form, and the Stadio San Paolo is not the place to go for the weak of heart. Any chink in our armour could be ruthlessly exposed. A flaky win at Vicarage Road over Watford changes nothing.
We are in the driving seat for the tie, and we would much rather be in our position than Napoli’s, but we must be well aware of the dangers this tie represents.
Carlo Ancelotti is a wily campaigner who has seen and done it all, and will set his side up with each man confident they can get at us.
We need a goal. Who will Unai Emery trust?
Our coach will most likely go with 5 at the back, and that means a return to the side for Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right back, who was a late sub in the weekend’s win over the Hornets. Sead Kolasinac will also be restored to the lineup should Emery opt for the wing-back system, with Nacho Monreal going into the central defensive three.
Who goes in the engine room? This is perhaps the most important choice that Emery will make. He needs Lucas Torreira, with the Uruguayan the most adept at tracking runners, of which there will be plenty. Who partners our terrier though? He has a budding partnership with Granit Xhaka, and his long-range shots give us an outside bet for an away goal, but Matteo Guendouzi is a true box-to-box player, and Ramsey has also played in the centre this season.
The Welshman could be pushed up into the attacking trio, and is perhaps our best shout for that elusive away goa with his ghosting runs into the box. Mesut Ozil was a half-time sub in the win on Sunday, and European football is well suited to Ozil’s style of play. However, Alex Iwobi tracks back more effectively and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another option.
Then Emery must choose between Aubameyang and Lacazette. Both have their merits, and if we are playing on the break then Auba gets the nod. However, Laca gives us more all-round play and will give Napoli a torrid time.
Player to Watch
The Italian was the main threat in the first leg, and was instrumental in the majority of moves that posed problems. Insigne is masterful in the dark arts and will consistently earn free kicks and get his body in the way to give his side an advantage. He is also normally ridiculously clinical. An inch in the box and he will get his goal.
How The Game Could Go
An early goal for Napoli and it could be game over. It will mean they have the rest of the game to chase that one goal and it is back to square one. We must do everything to hold things tight and soak up the storm – and there will be one.
Napoli will know an early goal will also light up the crowd and make the arena a volcano. Ancelotti will have briefed his men that we have a penchant for conceding early goals, but our defence is not as bad as everyone thinks. We are amongst the top ten teams in Europe for the least amount of goals conceded in 2019 so far, so we can hold the line should we need to.
Our men will look to the likes of Laurent Koscielny for his experience, and Bernd Leno to take control of his area to quell the bombardment. Cool heads and good awareness to spot the opportunities to break the pressure and perhaps nick a goal will be the most important things we can bring to the game.
If we do this, we can carry on knowing we’ve knocked out perhaps the biggest hurdle to the trophy that is left – aside from Chelsea.
Stay tight, hit on the break, cool heads.
Let’s do this Arsenal.
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Aubameyang
Predicted Scoreline – 1-1