Wenger on red alert as Napoli aims to prove point in Europe
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Arsenal’s captain Per Mertesacker (L) celebrates the goal of midfielder Aaron Ramsey (C) with Jack Wilshere during their English Premier League match against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. REUTERS photoArsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars that Napoli will be motivated to prove a point in the Champions League tonight.
Wenger’s side are brim full of confidence after opening up a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Swansea on Sept. 28.
That success in south Wales was the Gunners’ fifth successive league victory and maintained their remarkable revival since an opening day defeat against Aston Villa that looked set to trigger another season of underachievement.
But Wenger is well aware, Serie A high flyers Napoli will be determined to end the Arsenal renaissance at the Emirates Stadium, especially since boss Rafael Benitez and star striker Gonzalo Higuain both want to prove their worth to English audiences.
Benitez failed to earn a long-term contract at Chelsea at the end of his interim spell in charge last season despite leading the club to Europa League glory and also securing a top four finish in the Premier League.
Instead Benitez headed off to Italy, where he has already galvanised Napoli to win five of their first six Serie A matches, while also starting their Champions League challenge by beating last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at home.
Praise for Benitez
Wenger is not surprised to see his old rival Benitez having an instant impact.
“Rafael Benitez is a great manager and has done well everywhere,” Wenger said. “He has a vast experience now, he has worked in Italy twice, worked in England, worked in Spain.
“All that together makes a manager more confident and more convinced of his opinions and you are not surprised how successful he has been throughout his career.”
Napoli’s fine form this season and Arsenal’s sudden revival makes their clash in north London one of the more intriguing encounters in Europe this week and Wenger is full of admiration for the Italian outfit.
Nevertheless, Wenger challenged his team to get the victory which would already represent a huge step towards safe passage into the knockout stages after they opening their group stage campaign with an impressive 2-1 win at Marseille.
“We know as well, when you want to qualify, your home games are vital,” Wenger added.
“We have started very well with the win in Marseille, but you know if you win the second game at home you have a good chance to qualify.
“I wouldn’t say it’s already a decisive game, but it is a game that will have a great weight on the end result of the qualifying teams.
“So let’s deal well with that situation, then we will be in a very positive mood to finish the job.”
For Benitez, a Napoli victory would be further confirmation that he can remain a major player in Europe even while based in a league that has lost something of its lustre in recent years.
“We have to take it one step at a time, but I have a lot of confidence in this squad,” he said before Saturday’s 2-0 win at Genoa.
“It is too early to say what we can achieve. But I have a great feeling about this.”