Arsenal advances despite 2-0 loss at Napoli in CL

Ten-man Arsenal advanced to the Champions League knockout phase

for the 14th consecutive year despite a 2-0 loss on Wednesday at

Napoli, which was eliminated from the competition.

Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 73rd minute but the San Paolo

stadium was soon silenced when word arrived that Borussia Dortmund

had scored a late goal in a 2-1 win at Marseille to win Group

F.

Jose Callejon added another goal for Napoli in added time but it

made no difference.

Arsenal was reduced to 10 men when Mikel Arteta picked up his

second yellow card in the 76th.

Dortmund, last season’s runner-up, won the group with 12 points.

Arsenal and Napoli also finished with 12 but Napoli was eliminated

on goal difference, becoming the first club to exit with 12 points

under the current format.

Marseille finished last in the group with zero points.

”It just shows you in this group there were three very good

teams,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said. ”With Marseille taking

no points at all, one team had to suffer.”

Napoli will drop into the Europa League, while Arsenal joins

fellow English clubs Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea

in the last 16.

”It’s incredible to exit after taking 12 of 18 points and

getting them against the best English squad and the European

runner-up,” Higuain said. ”I don’t think that has ever

happened.”

Despite its group-stage success, Arsenal has never won the

Champions League, losing the 2006 final to Barcelona being its best

result.

Arsenal needed only a draw to be sure of advancing as group

winners, while Napoli needed to win by a three-goal margin.

Wenger acknowledged some regret at not winning the group.

”Of course there is frustration. But it could have been worse

tonight as well,” he said then mentioned the streak of reaching

the knockout round. ”Maybe No. 14 will be good luck.”

Napoli fans whistled when Arsenal had the ball, while the group

of about 1,000 Arsenal supporters inside the visitors section at

the San Paolo stadium was mostly quiet.

Wenger rested standout midfielder Aaron Ramsey at the start,

using Tomas Rosicky instead on the right wing, while Napoli

goalkeeper Pepe Reina missed the match with a right thigh injury,

opening the way for 23-year-old Rafael Cabral to make his European

debut.

Napoli took the initiative from the start with Goran Pandev and

Higuain threatening in attack but the Italian side had trouble

getting a good look at the net.

Arsenal was content to play more patiently and seized upon its

first opportunity when Mesut Ozil set up Olivier Giroud for a

blazing shot on goal, which Cabral did well to knock away.

Napoli continued to pour forward but Arsenal defended with 10

men and the closest the hosts’ came to scoring in the first half

was when a header from Higuain went wide in the 44th after a failed

clearance by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

There was a lull in action at the start of the second half,

until Napoli left back Pablo Armero broke free and carried the ball

into the area, only to shoot directly at Szczesny.

Callejon had another good look for Napoli in the 62nd but shot

wide.

Ramsey came on for Santi Cazorla in the 67th but then Napoli

took control, first with Higuain then with Callejon, who scored

with a lob shot.

Despite the loss, Napoli fans gave their club a standing ovation

as they walked off.

”In the first half we controlled well. In the second half

Napoli was the better team,” Wenger said. ”They deserved it and

overall when we were down to 10 men and 1-0 down of course doubt

crept in and it was a difficult moment for us. But we managed to

keep it to one goal until near the end.”

Wenger acknowledged his side had difficulty weighing up whether

to attack or defend.

”It’s always difficult to cope with that problem during a

game,” the French manager said. ”Napoli was sharper physically

than us.”

With Juventus also having been eliminated Wednesday, AC Milan

was the only Italian club to advance.

Two Arsenal fans were slightly injured in minor clashes before

the match, the ANSA news agency reported.