Napoli victory in vain as Arsenal finish second
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
SSC Napoli 2-0 Arsenal FC
The home victory meant three teams finished on 12 points in Group F but Napoli were denied on head-to-head, with Arsenal coming second.
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SSC Napoli became the first team to be eliminated from the group phase of the UEFA Champions League on 12 points after a 2-0 home victory over Arsenal FC proved in vain.
With Rafael Benítez's men unable to impose themselves on a well-disciplined Arsenal, it took the 57th-minute introduction of Lorenzo Insigne to change the complex of the game and not long afterwards Gonzalo Higuaín struck his fourth goal of this Group F campaign. Mikel Arteta was sent off for the Gunners, but José Callejón's late second was only cosmetic as Borussia Dortmund's win at Olympique de Marseille took the Bundesliga side through with Arsenal.
There was a distinct sense of urgency in Napoli's play, yet whenever Arsenal got their foot on the ball they looked commanding, even if at least one Napoli player was soon biting at their heels – a little overzealously at times. If anything, being harried into passing quickly suited Arsenal's slick play down to the ground and they carved out the first big chance midway through the first half. Mesut Özil sent Olivier Giroud clear, but Rafael Cabral, making his UEFA Champions League debut, pushed his angled shot out. The ball came to Özil who was unable to get it under control and the opportunity went begging.
The hosts tried to make the most of full-backs Pablo Armero and Christian Maggio getting forward, and the latter went close to breaking the deadlock when he reached the ball ahead of Wojciech Szczęsny, only to lob both the last line of the Arsenal defence and the crossbar. Napoli's inability to involve Higuaín was symptomatic of their rather blunt-edged attack, when what they needed was the Argentinian's incision.
Benítez therefore turned to Insigne, and he instantly teed Armero up for the Neapolitans' best opening yet. Insigne's introduction also gave the fans belief, and the Azzurri responded. Higuaín scooped an effort over from an angle before getting it right from Callejón's pass to give Napoli the lead with a fine swivel and shot into the bottom corner. Their hopes received a further boost when Arteta collected a second yellow card, but joy turned to sorrow as news filtered through that Dortmund had gone in front at Marseille.
Napoli needed two more goals to progress, yet they could only find one – Callejón delightfully lobbing Szczęsny with almost the last kick. It may have sealed the victory, which preserved Napoli's unbeaten home record in the UEFA Champions League, but the Serie A club nevertheless bowed out of the competition on 12 points. Arsène Wenger's troops, meanwhile, qualified in second spot as a result of the three-way head-to-head at the top of Group F.