Howdy all and happy match day to you.
I don’t know why but I don’t feel as nervous about this one as I probably should. With our away form in the league seeing us tank and probably drop out of the top four unless something changes, this game could have far-reaching repercussions on our season, yet here I am sitting on the tube on my way in to the office with little worry or concern about how events will unfold tonight.
Perhaps it’s the complete ignorance I have over Italian football. I know of certain players like Mertens, Koulibally, Insigne, Milik, etc, but the Italian league is so boring to watch (made all the more so by Juventus’ easy walk to the league title again) that I rarely spend any time viewing any of these players for any amount of time.
Or perhaps our home performances this season are cause for my comfort? Perhaps the fact that we are one of the best teams in England when it comes to home form that I am simply processing the data of this season in my mind and that is putting me at ease.
The problem with knockout competition however is that it isn’t just about processing games in isolation. If we win 2-1 tonight it is a very different result from winning 5-1. This Arsenal team is very good at conceding goals and in a competition where away goals are important – as we found out last year against Atletico having dominated the first game – then the comfort of knowing Arsenal could win tonight just isn’t enough.
But still I remain confident. It’ll probably all blow up in my face but I fancy Arsenal will react from the poor performance on Sunday and we’ll see a team massively up for it tonight. Napoli are very good, probably better than us, but we’ve got a team at home who are very strong and we simply must make that count tonight.
What we also have to hope is that we have some players available who have been missing. Sokratis will surely play having just been given a two match suspension. Torreira has to come in and after Ramsey showed that he’s up for a fight when others weren’t against Everton, I’d be playing the Welshman too.
I think we’ll line up with Cech in goal and a back four tonight. Again I have no basis for this argument other than gut feel but I think Unai should be looking for goals and lots of them. I’d have Monreal, Koscielny (if fit), Sokratis and Maitland-Niles as the back four, then I’d have Torreira and hopefully Xhaka if fit. In front of them I’d go Özil on the right and task him with drifting across the pitch and tell Ramsey to occupy the central part of the three behind either Laca or Auba. I think that energy and the overloads that Ramsey can create can be valuable for us and he’s been our best player of late so we need him to start. On the left you can take your pick from Iwobi or Mkhitaryan but I’d pick the directness of Iwobi over the Armenian.
The options from the bench can then be whichever striker isn’t starting, or Mkhitaryan, but it gives us more from the bench if we need it.
Napoli need to just keep us from overloading them and then use their quality front three to hit us on the counter. A goal or two from them and keeping us from racking up a few – not that I’m suggesting we will – will be enough for them to take back something to Naples with hope that our dreadful away form continues.
Which it probably will.
Which is why I’m hoping that – to coin a Wengerism – the ‘handbrake is off’ tonight when we have them on our patch. Let’s go for it. We can’t defend anyway so we might as well have a swashbuckling attempt at a hatful or goals.
That’s why I’m a fan and not getting paid millions to manage the team though I suppose! I just have to hope that Unai has a plan that makes us feel a lot more comfortable than some of the other first leg ties in this competition, because we’ve been rubbish in those, so i just hope it doesn’t become a ‘thing’ when the better teams come knocking at our door.
Let’s all sing up for The Arsenal and hope for a healthy lead to the San Paolo Stadium.