Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsenal host Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday night, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and NJF Media journalist Francesca Ceciarini for their views.
Over the past few seasons, the defining feature of Napoli’s strategy has been their commitment to playing a three-man defence.
Former coach Walter Mazzarri introduced that system when it was somewhat unfashionable - but it proved so successful that several Serie A clubs followed suit, and the majority were playing with a back three last season.
The arrival of Rafael Benitez as coach, however, has significantly changed the way Napoli operate. Now, they’re playing in Benitez’s usual 4-2-3-1, and although that has required a huge transformation in positional responsibilities, Napoli are already up to speed with the formation.
In the central attacking midfield role, Marek Hamsik is Napoli’s key player. In the position where Benitez has previously got the best from Pablo Aimar, Steven Gerrard and Juan MataMichael Cox
Benitez was given plenty of money to spend in the summer, much of it the proceeds from the sale of centre forward Edinson Cavani, and he’s assembled the strongest squad Naples has seen for decades.
In goal, one of Benitez’s old Liverpool favourites Pepe Reina has arrived on loan. His form dipped in his later Premier League seasons, but some attributed that to the departure of goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, who has also joined Benitez at Napoli.
The central midfield zone has seen few changes. Benitez will select two of his three Swiss holding midfielders: Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili, to play disciplined roles in front of the back four. The energetic Behrami and the excellent all-rounder Inler appear first choice.
In the attacking band of three, Benitez has signed two genuine wingers in Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens - Napoli’s previous system didn’t require players in that mould - but in the 2-1 win over Dortmund, the diminutive Neapolitan Lorenzo Insigne started on the left, drifting inside into pockets of space. He was excellent throughout, and scored a stunning long-range free-kick.
In the central attacking midfield role, Marek Hamsik is Napoli’s key player. In the position where Benitez has previously got the best from Pablo Aimar, Steven Gerrard and Juan Mata, the Slovakian has always boasted energy, goalscoring ability and tactical discipline, but last season added creativity to his game, topping the Serie A assist charts.
Up front, Gonzalo Higuain seems to be thriving under the guidance of Benitez, and against Dortmund was a great threat with his pace in behind the defence, constantly chasing after long passes. He’s a great all-rounder, boasting intelligent movement and aerial strength too.
Napoli will try to win the match at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night. They have started well in the Italian league and got a fantastic victory over Borussia Dortmund on matchday one. That win will give them confidence to come to north London and play to win instead of maybe trying to take a point.
It's a very tough group for Napoli so I think they will need three points on Tuesday to keep up their chances of getting to the last 16. Benitez rested some key players against Genoa on Saturday. The likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Marek Hamsik were on the bench and I think that shows how much focus the Spanish manager is putting on the Arsenal game. Benitez will be desperate to for his team to impress on his return to England, more importantly, he wants to win for the travelling Italian supporters.
They have a very good squad and did some excellent business in the transfer marketFrancesca Ceciarini
Napoli played with no fear against Dortmund. Jurgen Klopp's side made the final last year and only lost to a late Arjen Robben goal. Benitez got his tactics absolutely right and Napoli dictated the game in their own style.
They have a very good squad and did some excellent business in the transfer market, particularly replacing Edison Cavani with Higuain. Hamsik has improved drastically in the last few years and a lot of people think he is the main leader of the team now. Everything goes through him when Napoli go forward.
At the other end of the pitch, Pepe Reina could play an important role tomorrow because Arsenal are looking sharp in front of goal. He has been in very good form since joining on loan from Liverpool in the summer.
I am expecting a spectacular game on Tuesday because both teams are in very good form. Napoli are second in Serie A and of course Arsenal are currently top of the Premier League. The Gunners have also made some good signings, particularly Mesut Ozil. I think the German playmaker will be a very important player for Arsenal in the game because he will want to impress on his home debut in the Champions League.
Both teams will play without too much fear and without many mind games. I think the game will be tight in the first half but will open up in the second half because both teams have expansive games going forward.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 1 Oct 2013