Champions League: Composure Will See Gunners Through

UNITIED KINGDOM - For a man who was thought to be entering his final season at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is proving surprisingly resilient.

A thunderous start to the campaign has put the Gunners into contention for honours at home and abroad and, according to France Football, it has proved the basis for a new three-year contract for the manager.

Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but the fact that the story has not been immediately laughed off as it would have been this time last season is proof of how far Arsenal have progressed this year.

The Gunners can secure a place in the next stage of the Champions League in Naples tomorrow morning (Singapore time), but only if they maintain the composure that has seen them enjoy such a strong start to the season.

The Gunners need just a point to be certain of qualification to the last 16. That would be enough for Napoli too, but only if Borussia Dortmund lose to Marseille, the whipping boys of the group.

That seems rather unlikely, even with the German side's awful injury problems. For Napoli to guarantee progression, regardless of Dortmund's efforts, they must win by three clear goals. That seems even more unlikely.

Napoli, having started so well under new manager Rafael Benitez, have hit something of a sticky patch as winter sets in.

Having reached mid-October without losing in the league, they have lost two more and have won only once in their last five games in all competitions.

ALARMING

They are also shipping goals at an alarming rate, having conceded 14 in their last six games. They have kept only five clean sheets in 20 games.

They will not relish the visit of Wenger's side, especially if Marek Hamsik misses out, as is expected. For all of Benitez's undoubted tactical acumen, his Napoli were taken apart at will when they visited the Emirates Stadium last season.

They seemed entirely unprepared for the onslaught of a side that few had expected to be title contenders back in the summer.

If Napoli are to have a chance of victory, lessons must be learnt.

Lessons have been learnt and it looks like examinations will be aced in North London.

The Gunners sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League and there are fewer reasons than ever to be confident that their challenge will falter.

The fact that Sunday's result, a 1-1 draw with Everton at home, was seen as a disappointment, is yet another sign of progress.

Roberto Martinez's side were flying, buoyed with confidence after their win at Old Trafford. A point was absolutely fine.

CREATIVITY

Arsenal will be without Bacary Sagna, still recovering from a hamstring problem, but understudy Carl Jenkinson has proven himself to be more than capable, especially going forward.

With so much creativity in the midfield, the Gunners have little to fear from anyone.

Aaron Ramsey continues his incredible form, while careful management of Jack Wilshere has seen him grow in strength, both physically and metaphorically.

Olivier Giroud has been one of the success stories of the season and against a team as determined to shoot themselves in the foot as Napoli, his power and positioning could cause all kinds of problems.

On the sidelines, Wenger will watch with a degree of satisfaction. He has been lampooned, attacked and abused, by his own supporters as much as anyone else.

And yet, if his season continues in this vein, he will have the last laugh.

npsports@sph.com.sg


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