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Jack: Arsenal's win over Napoli worth more than three points

Kristian Jack
10/1/2013 6:09:18 PM
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It turned out to be the perfect gift his team could have given him.

Arsene Wenger celebrated his 17th anniversary as Gunners boss on Tuesday and it was fitting that Arsenal performed well in a competition he loves.

Napoli at home was billed as the most significant test yet of high-flying Arsenal's credentials with new super star Mesut Ozil in the side. They passed it easily, dominating the Italian side, after scoring twice inside the opening fifteen minutes.

"Overall, it was an outstanding game," said Wenger post match.

Wenger is at his best when he talks about the Champions League.

During his time in England he has seen the Premier League evolve into a giant led by giants, a competition whose identity is not something he is totally comfortable with, but in Europe's most glamorous tournament he always feels at home.

It is a competition that he adores and one that has often been good to him and his team, despite what he says about recent draws going against him.

"Yes, we would love to win it as it has never been done with this club and we have flirted with a few times but I feel in recent years we have not been helped by the draw. We have played Barca, Barca, Milan, Bayern Munich, so we have had difficult draws. Recently, we haven't had the quality to go through," reflected Wenger this week.

It is true that during the last four years they haven't been good enough to beat those super clubs he refers to but during the group stages, twice in the past four years, they have lost at home to Schalke and away at Braga to lose their grip on the top of their group.

When you finish second in your Champions League group you deserve no favours.

Yet, when the draw was made for this year's group stages every Arsenal fan would have happily accepted second place after they were handed the toughest team in pot three, last year's finalists Borussia Dortmund, and arguably the best team in pot four, Napoli. "It is the toughest group of all," Wenger announced after the draw.

Anything other than a win on Tuesday against Napoli would have been a concern for Wenger heading into a stern test against Borussia Dortmund, who they play back-to-back on October 22 and November 6. With six points gained through two games, Arsenal will know four points from their last four matches should be enough for them to qualify.

"Mathematically I think they say we need 10.2 points to be sure," Wenger joked this week. As usual, he had done his homework. In the past five years of the tournament, teams have finished second with tally's anywhere from 8 to 13, but the most common achieved by a group runner-up has been 10 points with the 40 runners-up averaging just over 10 points.

Only five teams in the 22 year history of the Champions League format have failed to qualify with 10 points but that list includes an English side in each of the last two years, Chelsea last season and Manchester City in 2011-12.

Qualification for the last 16 is essential for a club like Arsenal. Not only does it send a message to star players that they are still a force but it maintains their consistency in the UEFA coefficient standings. Arsenal have benefited at the draw by being placed in pot one, based on their performances in the Champions League and Premier League over the five seasons previous.

Staying in the top eight plays a big part in them reaching the knock out stages of the Champions League (this year aside, Arsenal's groups have been quite favourable in recent years) yet they slipped to seventh, behind Benfica, in last month's latest round of coefficients and with Atletico Madrid and Porto closing in, it is important that they reach the last 16 again this year to help next season's effort should they qualify once again.

Wenger, though, has much bigger dreams than the last 16 and still wants to one day win that elusive European Cup.

"It is something I miss that I will try to fight very hard to fill my CV with that.....You always think let's do it every year, one year it will go for you. Let's hope it will be this year."

Arsenal know only too well the harder that path becomes when you don't win your group. Tuesday's win over Napoli puts them in a great position to qualify but the performance will leave them believing they can beat a team like Borussia Dortmund and find an easier path to the final, where they last reached seven years ago in Paris.

That day Arsenal were 15 minutes from glory before Barcelona scored twice to turn Wenger's dream into a nightmare.

The Frenchman has been dreaming of getting another crack ever since.



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