Napoli 2 Arsenal 0
( Higuain 73, Callejon 90 +3 )

Ten man Arsenal fought for their Champions’ League lives in Southern Italy, and despite suffering a defeat to Napoli, still progressed to the last 16 of Europe’s top cup competition for the fourteenth consecutive season. Mikel Arteta received his second half marching orders after receiving two yellow cards, which made the Serie A side’s task all the easier on the night. However with Borussia Dortmund winning in Marseille, Napoli required three goal to progress themselves. Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon strikes gave the Gunners the possible fright of their own elimination, but Napoli’s second goal was swiftly followed by the full time whistle. Arsenal progress as runners up, with Dortmund winning Group F on goals scored against each other, and despite Napoli also finishing on 12 points, it is they who will drop into the Europa League.

By finishing Group F runners up, Arsenal will now potentially face one from either Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich or Athletico Madrid in the last 16. For now, Arsene Wenger can reflect on another job, not exactly done as he’d liked, but progression from a tough group would always be a tough ask.

” We’re happy to be through because it was a very difficult game. We took the game very seriously, we played well, and were focussed but in the second half we dropped physically a lot after the game on Sunday. Napoli played very well tonight, but in the end we got through,” he said.

On a night when Arsenal were inbetween sticking or twisting, the clear lack of objective or on filed direction would distract Wenger’s side he acknowledged.

“The most difficult thing in football,is when you’re in between do we attack or do we defend, and as long as we didn’t score a goal tonight of course they had hope.

” When you in the group you feel you’ve done your job very well. When you go through as second you think you’ve just done you’re job and you hope for a good draw.”

Olivier Giroud saw Arsenal’s only first half effort of note go begging in an opening forty five minutes in which Napoli needed to score. Scrapping and snapping at their visitors at every turn meant Arsenal were unable to get their flowing game started with any great effect. Arteta got his first yellow card for a foul on Valon Behrami, but his second half yellow was harsh. The Gunners captain was unlucky to get a second yellow as Callejon hit the deck, but down to ten men, Napoli seized their chance.

Higuain showed why Wenger was hot on his trail in the summer. Despite skying and earlier effort, the Spain striker more than made up for that miss. He took the ball from Pablo Armero’s cross, passed back to Callejon who slipped in his Higuain to, to turn and fire beyond Wojciech Szczesny after 73 minutes. At that time, it was both Arsenal and Napoli who had qualified, but the Serie A side began to relax in their play. News of Dortmund taking a 2-1 lead in Marseille saw Napoli up their game.

With time running out, for the home side, substitute Lorenzo Insigne played in Callejon for Napoli’s second and Arsenal looked stunned. Earlier Armero saw a gilt edged chance to, score, but hit a tame shot at Szczesny. Had that gone in, the game dynamic would’ve been very interesting.

For all the Gunners neat passing, they were never allowed to get going, and Arteta’s sending off didn’t help matters said Wenger.

” He is absolutely convinced he didn’t make a foul and it was harsh, but he already had a yellow card. It’s always difficult in the middle of the park and especially when they make a bit more of it, because he got up straight away as soon as he got a second yellow. I felt it was a harsh second yellow.”

It may not have been the result or finish his side wanted, but Wenger and Arsenal are no strangers to doing things the hard way, as we witnessed here.