Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Napoli on Saturday in the Emirates Cup, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist James Horncastle for their views.
The departures of long-serving coach Walter Mazzarri and star striker Edinson Cavani were always likely to prompt a dramatic change in playing style for Napoli, and the appointment of Rafael Benitez confirms last season’s Serie A runners-up will play a significantly different brand of football in 2013/14.
Under Mazzarri, Napoli were superb on the counter attack, and the defining feature of their gameplan was the commitment to playing with a three-man defence. Benitez, however, has generally favoured a 4-2-3-1 in his spells at Valencia, Liverpool, Inter and Chelsea - and his pre-season selections indicate Napoli will switch to a back four.
Benitez rarely compromises his methods when taking charge of a new side, so expect plenty of zonal marking and squad rotation
Napoli played with two deep midfielders under Mazzarri, and this is arguably the only area of the side that won’t change significantly. Their three options in this position are all Swiss - former West Ham man Valon Behrami, former Bolton man Blerim Dzemaili and the exceptional Gokhan Inler, a huge physical presence and ?a tremendous all-round central midfielder.
In the attacking band of three, Benitez will probably favour Marek Hamsik in the centre. Benitez has strengthened the flanks with the signing of pacy winger Jose Callejon from Real Madrid, while Belgian newcomer Dries Mertens also plays wide but charges into goalscoring positions more frequently. Lorenzo Insigne, a slender but skilful 5ft 4in wide forward, favours the ?eft but Benitez has admitted he’d like to experiment with the youngster centrally.
Veteran Goran Pandev, who played under Benitez at Inter, has been deployed wide in recent years, but can also feature up front. First choice will be Cavani’s replacement Gonzalo Higuain, a good all-round forward capable of leading the line and getting on the end of crosses.
Benitez rarely compromises his methods when taking charge of a new side, so expect plenty of zonal marking and squad rotation, ?and for the Spaniard to constantly encourage his side to remain ‘compact’ from back to front, denying the opposition space in midfield.
There's been a lot of excitement at Napoli. For the last three years, they have been a team that have been in the contention for the title without really genuinely challenging for it.
At the end of last season when Walter Mazzarri left, there was a lot of optimism by the path taken, which was to hire Rafael Benitez. That was a bit of a coup.
The summer has taken off for them since the sale of Edinson Cavani. A lot of people still wonder how well they will cope without Cavani. They've never had a striker like him.
A lot of people still wonder how well they will cope without Cavani. They've never had a striker like him
Napoli have made some real waves in the transfer market so far. I think Pepe Reina is an upgrade on the goalkeeper they had but maybe wasn't at his best during his last couple of years at Liverpool. They've also signed some players along with Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid - Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon. The all-round quality of the squad has improved. Dries Mertens has joined from PSV Eindhoven and I think he could be an important player.
Having lost Cavani, Benitez wants to get 10 or 15 goals from some players in midfield. Marek Hamsik had a great season last year and was, along with Francesco Totti, the only player in Serie A to get into double figures for goals and assists. They've got goals in their team and were the top scorers in Serie A last year. They were lethal on the counter attack when Cavani was at the club but they were never really a defensive team.
I think Napoli will win 2-1.Copyright 2014 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 2 Aug 2013