Napoli v Arsenal - Champions League: 'We missed out on Gonzalo Higuain but I'm very happy with Mesut Ozil,' says Arsene Wenger

Gunners take on Napoli, who Higuain eventually joined, in final Champions League group match needing to avoid a heavy defeat

Naples

It is three games in the space of 12 days that have the potential to make it a very happy Christmas indeed for Arsene Wenger, and it starts amid the noise and the hostility of Naples tomorrow night with much at stake in the brave new world of Arsenal in 2013.

Follow the latest news from tonight's Champions League games by CLICKING HERE

They play Rafa Benitez’s Napoli to secure a place in the Champions League knockout stages, then Manchester City away on Saturday and Chelsea at home a week on Monday. Ideally, with those two pivotal Premier League fixtures awaiting, Wenger would like to rest players at the San Paulo stadium tomorrow but even that is not an option with it is still possible Arsenal could fail to make it into the knockout round despite a haul of 12 points.

They need only avoid a defeat by a margin of three goals to be sure of qualifying ahead of Napoli, and a draw or better will win them Group F. For a side that has conceded two goals in its last eight games, the prospect of shipping three tomorrow would be unusual indeed.

Even so, it is very harsh on a side that have accumulated a total of points that would, ordinarily have seen them through by now. In Naples this evening Wenger was typically cautious when it comes to the so-called moments of destiny but even he had to acknowledge that the pre-Christmas run will set the tone around Arsenal.

Should Arsenal safely negotiate a place in the Champions League last 16 it will be for the 14th consecutive season. “It [against Napoli] is to be in Champions League or not. The other two games, not definitely, we are five points ahead,” he said. “The championship is a marathon. We will be in race no matter what happens. [The next two league games] will show our strengths hopefully. [Napoli] is a decider, that is for sure.”

The early part of the season was kind to Arsenal in terms of their league fixtures but recently the tests have become harder. The wins over Liverpool and then Borussia Dortmund away were the high points so far, the defeat to Manchester United the low, and by the time they are gathering for training on Christmas Day they will have faced all the major title contenders.

The Dortmund game showed that this is a team well capable of getting a result in one of the most hostile stadiums in Europe and they will need all that courage against Napoli. The San Paulo is a stadium in which Chelsea and Manchester City lost in the 2011-2012 season. Benitez is under pressure to get a result with his team third in Serie A, eight points behind leaders Juventus, and there is no doubting the locals’ appetite for this game.

Wenger conceded that he will be tempted to make some changes, albeit it in areas of the pitch that do not affect the team’s “stability”. He has the same squad as Sunday – Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski have not travelled – and may yet be tempted to take Aaron Ramsey out the firing line after a tired performance on Sunday.

The season’s stand-out performer for Arsenal has played more than anyone else this season, although judging from the way Wenger was talking he may not be able to risk leaving Ramsey out. “We can’t afford to do anything [in terms of dropping players], we just rotate a little bit sometimes, never more than two or three players because stability is important.

“When you play so many games, sometimes you have one game when the feeling is that legs are tired. The game after that they sometimes surprise you again and everyone has recovered. At the moment we have a stable squad. In some positions I rotate a bit more than in positions where stability is more important.”

He added: “Our priorities are simple, first qualify, if possible top [of the group]. For me, the first priority is to qualify. If we finish top it is even better. It [the atmosphere] is part of the big games, we know how to deal with that. You have that everywhere. We played everywhere in Europe, we are used to this kind of atmosphere, when you go from Fenerbahce to Dortmund, you are used to this kind of atmosphere.”

Gonzalo Higuain, an Arsenal target this summer, did not play in the 2-0 defeat for the Italian side at the Emirates in October but he will be in the side tonight. Asked whether he might have signed Higuain as well as Mesut Ozil, Wenger said he found that one a difficult one to answer. “Am I happy with the player I got in Ozil? Very much,” he said.

Gonzalo Higuain interested Arsene Wenger during the summer (Getty) Gonzalo Higuain interested Arsene Wenger during the summer (Getty)
“There was a lot of statements that were not true about Higuain. He has joined Benitez. He is in good hands and shows he is a great striker. We have Olivier Giroud who shows as well that he is a great striker.”

In different circumstances this might have been another tale of the player who got away coming back to haunt Arsenal, but these are very different times at the club and, come Christmas, the mood could be better again.

Suggested Topics
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 tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
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.

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'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick