Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars that SSC Napoli will be motivated to prove a point in the Champions League today.
Wenger’s side are brimming full of confidence after opening up a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Swansea City on Saturday.
The success in south Wales was the Gunners’ fifth successive league victory and maintained their remarkable revival since an opening day defeat against Aston Villa that looked set to trigger another season of underachievement.
Yet Wenger is well aware that Serie A high-fliers Napoli will be determined to end the Arsenal renaissance at the Emirates Stadium, especially since manager Rafael Benitez and star striker Gonzalo Higuain both want to prove their worth to English audiences.
Benitez failed to earn a long-term contract at Chelsea at the end of his interim spell in charge last season despite leading the club to Europa League glory and also securing a top four finish in the Premier League.
Instead, he headed off to Italy, where he has already galvanized Napoli to win five of their first six Serie A matches, while also starting their Champions League challenge by beating last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at home.
Wenger is not surprised to see his old rival Benitez having an instant impact.
“Rafael Benitez is a great manager and has done well everywhere,” Wenger said. “He has a vast experience now, he has worked in Italy twice, worked in England, worked in Spain. All that together makes a manager more confident and more convinced of his opinions and you are not surprised how successful he has been throughout his career.”
Meanwhile, Argentine striker Higuain, who appeared all set for a switch to Arsenal before Real Madrid accepted a ￡34 million (US$54.93 million) bid from Napoli instead, would also love to prove he made the right decision to snub the Gunners.
The Arsenal boss insisted that there is no need to reflect on what might have been, after eventually landing Mesut Ozil from the Spanish side in a club-record ￡42.5 million deadline day transfer.
“As we know, in the end, Real Madrid sold two great players, one of them went to Napoli, one went to Arsenal,” Wenger said.
Napoli’s fine form this season and Arsenal’s sudden revival makes their clash in north London one of the more intriguing encounters in Europe this week and Wenger is full of admiration for the Italian outfit.
Nevertheless, Wenger challenged his team to get the victory which would already represent a huge step toward safe passage into the knockout stages after opening their group-stage campaign with an impressive 2-1 win at Olympique de Marseille.
“We know as well, when you want to qualify, your home games are vital,” Wenger added.
For Benitez, a Napoli victory would be further confirmation that he can remain a major player in Europe even while based in a league that has lost something of its luster in recent years.
“We have to take it one step at a time, but I have a lot of confidence in this squad,” he said before Saturday’s 2-0 win at Genoa. “It is too early to say what we can achieve, but I have a great feeling about this.”