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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent