London lesson for Azzurri, but key games ahead.
Following the defeat at Arsenal on Tuesday night, Corriere dello Sport suggested that Napoli boss Rafa Benitez now had to “make amends” after a disappointing 2-0 loss at the Emirates.
The Serie A giants arrived in London unbeaten thus far this season, but with the absence of the injured Gonzalo Higuain coupled with a porous defence, they were no match for Arsene Wenger’s side.
Napoli have long been regarded as the most ‘European’ side in Serie A given their usual intensity and pressing policy, and as a result much was expected in the latest blockbuster clash from Group F.
However, the Neapolitans were ultimately unable to cope with the Gunners in a blistering opening period of the game and failed to not only recover, but also to stamp their own authority on the game.
Despite the sense of disappointment that they will return to Naples with, their fate is very much still in their own hands in terms of being able to advance beyond the group stages.
The next two match-days will see Napoli face Marseille, who are bottom of the group with no points to show for their efforts after defeats to both Arsenal and Dortmund.
While the away trip to France will be a difficult proposition, Benitez will eager to see a reaction from his players if they are to realistically harbour hopes of emerging as a threat to the top clubs in the latter stages.
Their away form may be sketchy at best, but the intimidating San Paolo is ultimately where their biggest strength lies and if they are able to take maximum points from their French rivals, then it will put them in a strong position moving forward.
A trip to Dortmund then follows, and it remains to be seen what shape last year’s runners-up are in after their back-to-back clashes with Arsenal, before the Gunners then make the trip to Naples to complete the schedule.
Wenger’s side currently top the group with six points, with Napoli and Dortmund are level with three apiece. While that was perhaps the predicted pattern ahead of the tournament getting under-way, it is vital that the Partenopei bounce back from this setback.
Marek Hamsik had insisted prior to the game that the result would not be decisive, and there is a great deal of truth in that statement.
The bigger test for Benitez and Napoli now is to recover from their inability to deal with Arsenal’s pressing and dominance, and to learn from their mistakes and ensure there are no repeats ahead.