On a run of nine straight wins that has revived hopes of success at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger is hoping that this will be the season to correct the one notable achievement lacking from both his and his club’s resume: winning the Champions League.
"It's something I miss and I will try to fight very hard to fill my CV with that,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “But you play against Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid -- every year they are there with a chance.
"You always think 'let's do it every year, one year it will go for you'. Let's hope it will be this year. The competition is higher than ever."
Arsenal were certainly done no favors this season in undeniably being thrust into what was instantly and predictably dubbed the “group of death.” But having gotten a potentially priceless away win in Marseille, Arsenal now face Napoli at the Emirates Stadium knowing that a win would put them in command of the group. Still, Wenger is fully aware not only of the difficulty of the task at hand, but also of the potential benefits of not just qualifying, but coming out on top.
“If we get out of the group I would say we have a chance,” he said. “But remember Dortmund played in the final last season, Napoli are a very good team and Marseille are not easy.
“What we have to show now is that we have strength [in the group stage].In recent years we have finished second. To finish first is better.”
Wenger will come up against a familiar foe on Tuesday in former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez. Unlike his opposite number, the Spaniard has had no shortage of success in Europe. His Europa League victory with Chelsea last season enshrined his reputation as something of a master in continental competition, having previously claimed the same trophy with Valencia and reaching two finals -- winning one -- of the Champions League with Liverpool.
Benitez has already displayed his managerial acumen since taking on the difficult task of replacing the hugely successful Walter Mazzarri in the summer. Lying second in Serie A, Napoli also got an impressive 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund to begin their Champions League campaign. But Benitez is expecting a tough night when he comes up against a manager who he rates as one of the best around.
“It's the opposite thing [to the first game] -- now we need to control the euphoria, we are going to play against a top side and we must show character, strength [and also] respect to a team that is top of the league and playing very well,” he said, according to UEFA.com. “I was expecting a strong [Arsenal] team because I think Wenger is the top coach in the Premier League, and then they signed top players so it's going well for them.”
Benitez, is still waiting on the fitness of Gonzalo Higuain, who Arsenal targeted over the summer, as well as fellow former Real Madrid man Raul Albiol.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Flamini, Ramsey
Gnabry, Ozil, Wilshere
D: Mesto, Albiol, Britos, Zuniga
M: Behrami, Inler
Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne
Prediction: The noises coming out of the Napoli are not good regarding the fitness of Higuain. His absence would clearly be a significant blow to his side’s chances. While Goran Pandev scored twice against Genoa at the weekend, he does not pose the same threat. Still, there remains plenty of quality in behind that Arsenal will have to be wary of in the form of the creative and pacey trio of Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne.
Arsenal, of course, have their own injury worries. Tomas Rosicky’s return provides a boost, although he looks unlikely to be risked from the start. Perhaps helped by the enforced continuity of selection, Wenger’s side have built increasing confidence and momentum in their impressive winning run. Detractors, though, claim that the opposition in that run has been less than stellar -- given that they met Tottenham when they had still to integrate many of their raft of new signings into the team. While those comments are slightly unfair, Napoli may well be the strongest opposition Arsenal have come up against this season.
Benitez is extremely tactically astute, especially in Europe and particularly away from home. Playing on the counter-attack he could well secure a draw that in the end neither side maybe all that unhappy about.
Arsenal 1-1 Napoli
Where to watch: The Champions League Group F match will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.