Arsenal v Napoli: Rafael Benitez would like to see Arsene Wenger win the Champions League... but not this time

Benitez brings his new side to the Emirates tonight

Rafael Benitez and Arsène Wenger will be fighting for crucial Champions League points tonight, but the Napoli manager last night made clear his deep respect for his adversary, describing him as “the best coach in the Premier League” and hoping that one day he will be successful in his quest to win the European Cup.

The two managers were close during Benitez’s two spells in the Premier League – first with Liverpool, then with Chelsea – and the Spaniard praised Wenger on Monday, saying: “I think he’s a great manager, and a great person, someone that knows the league here in England, and has experience in Europe, and is always in the top four. He is doing a great job.”

Follow live coverage of Tuesday's Champions League action, including Arsenal v Napoli, Celtic v Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest v Chelsea

While Benitez lifted the Champions League in 2005 with Liverpool, Wenger has yet to win it, losing in the final to Barcelona in 2006. Although Napoli and Arsenal are in a desperately difficult group now – along with Borussia Dortmund and Marseilles – Benitez said he would be pleased, in the future, if Wenger did finally get his hands on the European Cup. “Hopefully, he can win the Champions League, but in another year, not this one, just in case,” the Spaniard said.

Since their 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day, Arsenal have been in remarkably good form, rising to the top of the Premier League, winning in Marseilles and advancing to the last 16 of the League Cup. They have won eight of their last nine games, and took the other one in a penalty shoot-out. Benitez, though, said he was not surprised.

“I was expecting a strong team,” he said. “Wenger is the best coach in the Premier League, then they signed good players and at this point everything is going well for them.”

Tuesday night’s game will be a different challenge from Napoli’s first, when they beat Borussia Dortmund, last season’s Champions League runners-up, 2-1 at home. “Of course there is a difference,” Benitez said. “We played the first game at home against finalists, a very, very tough game. But it’s a different game now, away, we play against a team that have ball possession as a strength. Against Dortmund we had to work and be careful of counter-attacking, now we need  to change approach, as Arsenal will use ball possession.”

This will be Benitez’s first competitive game in England since he left Chelsea at the end of last season after a successful spell as interim manager, and he said on Monday night he was proud of his work at Stamford Bridge, despite his unpopularity with some supporters. “I was really pleased because we won,” he said. “We finished in the top three – that was the target – and we won the Europa League. Really pleased, and the majority of the professionals and people who follow the team every day could see we were trying to do our best and we did a good job at the end.”

While Benitez said he was very happy in Naples, he was open to the possibility of one day returning for a third spell in England. “My future is to do well with Napoli and try to win things. You never know. I am still a young manager – hopefully, I’ll be there a long time then I can manage in different countries in the future,” he said.

Benitez is certainly enjoying life in Naples for now, though, with his team just two points off the lead in Serie A. “It is a nice place, with nice fans with a lot of passion and commitment. It is very similar to Liverpool in terms of passion for the team, for football. They enjoy football and you can see that everywhere.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'