Having been knocked out of last year’s competition at the final hurdle, Arsenal find themselves at the threshold of a second consecutive Europa League semi-final. In marked contrast to the 2017/18 campaign, when they were beaten by the eventual winners and standout favourites Atletico Madrid, this season the tournament is much more wide open. If they get past current opponents Napoli, the Gunners will face either Villarreal or Valencia for a chance to go one round further this time around.
Even better news for Arsenal comes in the fact that the first leg at the Emirates Stadium finished 2-0 to the home side. Napoli remain a dangerous beast, with attacking players such as Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne among their squad. Gunners coach Unai Emery – who won this competition three times in a row between 2014 and 2016 with Sevilla – knows that he stands on the verge of potentially winning it a fourth time, but his charges may need to withstand an attacking onslaught from the early stages if this is to be achieved.
Arsenal a very unfinished article
Under previous manager Arsene Wenger, Arsenal developed a reputation of being almost cartoonishly wedded to trying to score the perfect goal. Glaring deficiencies in their defence, and in particular their gossamer-thin central midfield, went unaddressed as the club stockpiled exciting yet fragile skill players. Under Emery, the centre of that midfield now has a steelier core; Lucas Torreira in particular is not afraid to kick an opponent in the interests of “letting them know he’s there”. This has been achieved without unduly reining in attacking players such as Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.
With that said, the Gunners still seem to be perpetually 90 minutes away from having a “very Arsenal” type of game, where more hardened opponents exploit the naivete that hasn’t been fully excised from the side. The last two rounds have seen them lose away legs in Belarus and at French mid-table side Rennes. Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti – who’s been around the block more times than a lost taxi driver – will consider his side’s best approach to be in exploiting the edginess that those losses will have instilled. Expect Napoli to score early on, and with odds of 4/1 at a href=”https://openodds.com/go/ladbrokes” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Ladbrokes on them leading after 15 minutes, you could do a lot worse.
Napoli suffering without Sarri
Chelsea fans might well feel that their side has been hurt by the appointment of Mauricio Sarri, but if any club has been more reason than them to mourn the Italian’s summer move it would be Napoli. Under Sarri, they were a swashbuckling side that could cut open any defence in Europe with a couple of passes. Since he left, taking midfield playmaker Jorginho with him, the Amalfi coast side have been more pedestrian, less equipped to score a lot of goals in a short space of time. A Sarri side would have been better placed to overturn a two-goal deficit such as this.
Ancelotti is no slouch tactically, and he’s coached some fine attacking sides, but his instincts are defensive and there are definite doubts over whether he can unleash his team’s attacking potential without sacrificing some stability at the back. Arsenal, in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazzette, have forwards who are more than capable of exploiting any errors. As a result, while we wouldn’t question Napoli’s ability to score the three goals they need to progress, we don’t think they can do that and stop Arsenal scoring. As such, we’d be all over Betway’s 2/9 price on Arsenal to be the team that progresses.
Error may play a huge part
Napoli need a resounding win here, and have to play against type to achieve it. Arsenal could theoretically shut up shop and dare the opposition to attack them, but recent history suggests that would be unwise. As a result, it’s not hard to see this game devolving into chaos – which is great news for the neutral but will do nothing for the nerves of anyone supporting either side. Arsenal’s recent loss at Everton was an example of what happens when two teams have forgotten how to do anything but attack one another; somehow it only ended 1-0, but there were openings galore at both ends.
We’d expect this contest to be every bit as haywire, and for defensive mistakes to play a major part in deciding the result. Those errors could, and probably will, be in evidence on both sides thanks to the circumstances, and there is a very real chance that on the scoreboard, they could cancel one another out. Coral have odds of 12/1 available on this game coming to a 2-2 draw, and while it’s a punt – as all Correct Score bets are – we see those as excellent odds on a scoreline that is entirely in keeping with the way the sides will approach the game.
Bets of the Day
Napoli to lead after 15 minutes (Ladbrokes, 4/1); Arsenal to progress (Betway, 2/9); 2-2 Correct Score (Coral, 12/1)