Gonzalo Higuaín called it an "injustice" after SSC Napoli were eliminated with 12 points while Per Mertesacker accepted Arsenal FC were "lucky" to progress after a 2-0 loss.
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Failing to qualify for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League by a single goal despite beating Borussia Dortmund, Olympique de Marseille and Arsenal FC left SSC Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín struggling for words to express his disappointment following the 2-0 defeat of the Gunners.
The Argentinian international said "only bad luck" could explain the Serie A side's exit from the competition, the first club to be eliminated despite picking up 12 points, due to their inferior head-to-head goal difference with Dortmund, who scored a late winner at Marseille, and the Gunners.. Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini admitted it was the hardest group phase he had ever been involved in – and as a result the knockout stage does not worry him.
Gonzalo Higuaín, Napoli forward
It cannot be anything else but bad luck, because to win four games out of six and be eliminated is not something that happens often. Not going through is incredible. It is an injustice, really. Going out with 12 points – winning four games in such an immensely difficult group with two sides as strong as Arsenal and Dortmund – when you see teams going through with only one or two wins, with six or seven points, it's disappointing. We've got to look forward though.
There was a stage in the game when we were tired – we'd put in a great deal of effort, but now we've got to look forward to the Europa League, Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Our aim now is to win the Europa League. It's a trophy and it is very important for us.
Christian Maggio, Napoli defender
It is hard to say how we feel right now. It hurts to go out like that. We showed how strong we are. Now we turn to the Europa League and Serie A. We need to react well, work hard, and the results will come. We are sure that we will get the rewards soon. We are pleased to have beaten two of the best sides in Europe, but we were in an incredible group. We still leave with our heads held high.
Mathieu Flamini, Arsenal midfielder
Of course it is never good to lose a game, especially because we wanted to finish top of the group, but that is how it went today. Napoli played a great game and were unlucky. It went right to the end with three very good teams. Everybody was on 12 points so it was very close. It is hard for Napoli because today they won 2-0, but what was important for us was qualifying. I would say this has been [the most difficult group stage I have been in]. It was one of the hardest because you have a team like Napoli who have not qualified and we have finished second, level with them on 12 points. So of course it was one of the hardest.
We will play a big team, but we knew that. When you finish second, you know you have to face a group winner so that is the way it is. Anyway, if you want to go to the final and try to win something, you have to play all the big teams. I do not really have a preference. We will see what happens with the draw.
Per Mertesacker, Arsenal defender
It is a bit of a strange atmosphere at the moment because we lost the game. We were always on the back foot. We gave 10% less mentally because we always thought we were through. We were lucky today, but we deserved [to go through]. It was a difficult group.