Uninspired Arsenal left hoping for a stroke of luck
A 2-0 defeat by Napoli means Arsenal finish second in their group and face an uncomfortable draw
Napoli 2 Arsenal 0. ARSENE WENGER is hoping for a "bit of luck" when Monday's draw for the Last 16 of the Champions League is made.
The Arsenal manager was speaking after his side had lost 2-0 in Napoli, a result that coupled with Dortmund's win in Marseille, left the Gunners second in Group F, level on points with the German side but sporting an inferior head-to-head record over the two group games.
"Of course to finish second makes the potential draw more difficult," admitted Wenger. "But if you look at the teams who are potentially there, at least we know we will have a difficult draw. On the other hand, we have now qualified for a 14th consecutive year for the last 16 and maybe number 14 will bring us a bit of luck."
'Straws' and 'clutching' spring to mind. Going into the hat as a group runner-up has made life harder for the Gunners, and their list of possible opponents in the next round reads like a who's who of European giants: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and Atletico Madrid.
Then again, as Arsenal showed last year in beating Bayern 2-0 in Munich, on their day they are a match for anyone. In Napoli, in a strangely muted Stadio San Paolo, the Gunners only showed occasional glimpses of the form that has taken them five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that only a three-goal-margin defeat would prevent them qualifying for the Last 16 that took the edge off their performance; that and the trip to Manchester City on Saturday for a crucial league encounter.
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker said as much in his post-match interview. "We were always on the back foot," he conceded. "We took a little break today I think but we will be back on Saturday. It's always the same, you give 10 per cent less mentally because we knew we were through."
Arsenal weren't through at the start of the tie but after an insipid first half in which it was hard to tell which of the two teams was the one needing to score three unanswered goals, it was clear the second half would require something special from Napoli to send out the Gunners.
As it was the game only came to life in the last quarter with Gonzalo Higuain scoring for Napoli on 73 minutes and Mikel Arteta receiving a red card for a second clumsy challenge three minutes later. Suddenly Arsenal looked vulnerable, but Napoli didn't close in for the kill, instead easing off as news came through from Marseille that Dortmund were drawing 1-1, a result that would have sent the Italians through behind Arsenal. But then came Kevin Grosskreutz's winner for Dortmund three minutes from time and suddenly the truth dawned on Napoli – they were all but out.
A second goal on the stroke of full-time only added to Italian agony. So close yet so far. Europa League for them, Champions League for Arsenal, and for Wenger only mild regret at the turn of events.
"We were a bit in between 'do we attack or do we defend'. It is difficult to cope with that problem," he explained. "That is the frustration because you feel there was room to do better but it could have been worse as well tonight." ·