Arsenal was handed the worst possible draw in the Europa League quarter-final on Friday. Unai Emery’s must overcome a nightmarish Napoli team to achieve their dream of reaching Baku.
Napoli is no stranger to European competitions. Gli Azzurri clinched the Europa (then UEFA Cup) in 1989. The Naples-based side has become a mainstay in the Champions League since 2010 but somehow finds its way to the second tier competition.
That theme surfaced this season. Napoli dropped into the Europa League round of 32. FC Zurich received the brunt, crashing 5-1 on aggregate. Carlo Ancelotti’s men, though, were fortunate in the next phase. After recording an emphatic 3-0 win at home, they almost allowed RB Leipzig away back, losing 3-1.
Napoli is a formidable defensive unit. They have conceded only 21 goals in Serie A this season – Making them one of the favourite teams to win the Europa League. Despite narrowly missing out on progression to the Champions League last 16, they had the best defensive record in the group with only five goals scored against them.
This is the evidence of Ancelotti’s dogged defensive approach. Although he embraces Maurizio Sarri’s possession-based style of football, there’s greater emphasis on compactness and solidity.
Kalidou Koulibaly is his most trusted stalwart. Together with Mario Rui and Elseid Hysaj, along with familiar names like former Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches and Spanish veteran Raul Albiol, the Campania side is building a rock at the back.
In attack, there’s the dynamic trio of Arkadiusz Milik, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne. Milik, in particular, is enjoying an incredible campaign. A constant danger on the left, the Poland international has netted 17 times in all competitions this term – leading the club goal scoring charts.
Insigne follows closely with 13. The ability of the trio to switch positions would definitely be a headache for the Gunners.
Ancelotti, though, reckons Arsenal will be a tough customer. Speaking immediately after the draw, the former Chelsea boss said as quoted by Calciomercato, “A difficult but very fascinating challenge for us, for the club and for our fans.”
The Italian’s record against Unai Emery and Arsenal is impressive. He faced the Spanish tactician six times, winning four and losing two. He has battled the Gunners a total of eight times, winning five, drawing one and losing two.
It will be Emery’s first contest against Napoli. However, should Arsenal win and face Villarreal in the semi-final, it could be a smooth sail to the final. There’s only one side in football he’s won more games against and that’s Espanyol.