Naples - Arsenal have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions
League despite losing 2-0 away to Napoli on Wednesday, while the Italian
side agonisingly miss out.
Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon both scored in the
second half either side of Mikel Arteta's sending-off, but Borussia
Dortmund's dramatic late 2-1 win in Marseille saw them go through as
winners of Group F ahead of Arsenal and pushed Napoli into third place.
The Premier League leaders did just enough in the
heated atmosphere of the San Paolo stadium, with Napoli needing to win
by three goals to be certain of qualifying, and Arsene Wenger's side can
look forward to playing in the Champions League knockout stages for the
14th year in succession.
Napoli, meanwhile, miss out on a place in the last 16
as the losers in a three-way tie at the top of a remarkably competitive
group, and will have to settle for the consolation of Europa League
football in the New Year.
It was a sore one for Rafael Benitez's side, and
another blow for the prestige of Italian football after Juventus were
eliminated earlier in the day.
Beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in London in October, Napoli knew
that, to be sure of qualification, they had to win by three clear
goals, and their task was not helped by the absence of both Slovakian
creator Marek Hamsik and goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Brazilian Rafael Cabral made his Champions League debut
in place of Reina, as Napoli, whose recent form has been patchy, looked
to keep a clean sheet for the first time in nine outings.
The hosts knew they had to attack and they started with
intent. However, their only attempt of any real note in the opening
stages was a Goran Pandev shot that was blocked by visiting goalkeeper
Callejon curled an effort over the bar before Szczesny
was let off the hook when he casually tried to chip clear from a Laurent
Koscielny back-pass. Higuain intervened but, luckily for the Pole, he
Arsenal sat back and controlled the game well in the opening period, breaking up play and frustrating their hosts.
They only created one chance of note but it was the
best one of the first half, Olivier Giroud forcing a good save from
Rafael after latching onto Mathieu Flamini's pass inside the area.
Napoli continued to press in the second half but their
attacks lacked conviction, with Pablo Armero tearing forward down the
left and cutting into the box only to see his shot easily saved.
But their persistence finally brought its reward with
73 minutes played when Higuain scored for the fourth time in this
The Argentine exchanged passes with fellow former Real
Madrid man Callejon on the edge of the box before turning and shooting
low past Szczesny as the San Paolo erupted.
Napoli's hopes were given a further boost three minutes
later when Arsenal's skipper for the night Arteta was shown a second
yellow card by Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai for catching Callejon.
At that point Napoli were going through but, as the
game drifted into the 90th minute, news filtered through that Borussia
Dortmund had scored in France, leaving Rafael Benitez's side having to
score two more goals to progress.
They got one, substitute Lorenzo Insigne playing in
Callejon, who lobbed over the outrushing Szczesny and into the net, but
that came with the last kick of the match and Napoli's efforts were
ultimately in vain.