After a poor result against Udinese on Saturday, there are plenty of nerves around heading in to the vitally important tilt with Arsenal on Wednesday. A series of poor results over the past month and a half in both Serie A and the Champions League have left the club drifting away from the top of the table in the league and needing a miracle against Arsenal in order to advance to the Champions League knockout rounds.
If Borussia Dortmund beat Marseilles, and let's face it, they will, Napoli will have to beat Arsenal by at least a score of 3-0 in order to secure advancement. Given the squad's recent play, the absence of Marek Hamsik, and Arsenal's strong play atop the English Premier League, that's going to be a tall order to achieve.
Napoli will have the advantage of an amped-up San Paolo and a squad that claims to have learned from it's mistakes against Udinese. Goran Pandev has been in fine form of late, and Gonzalo Higuain is always dangerous in big matches. The big question mark will be the defense, which has been a constant thorn for Napoli all season long.
Napoli will still be missing Marek Hamsik, but the trio of Valon Behrami, Pablo Armero, and Pepe Reina should be returning from the knocks that kept them from starting the Udinese match. We'll probably see at least a degree of rotation in Rafa Benitez's lineup, as Dries Mertens has earned more playing time and Jose Callejon has spent most of the last few matches looking exhausted. Also, who knows who will start between Miguel Britos and Federico Fernandez. Britos is the more likely, but that's been a tough call to make of late.
For Arsenal, there are some question marks, but by and large they seem to be in good shape. They just need a draw to secure first place in the group, and any result short of losing by three goals or more will guarantee advancement. They'll be missing right back Bacary Sagna, and in terms of their longer term injuries, only Lukas Podolski seems possible to so much as make the bench. We could also see them rotate out Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, as both midfielders have seem their form degrade as fatigue seems to be taking hold of the pair of late.
The pain is that even if Napoli win but fail to gain the three-goal margin they need, they can be dropped to the Europa League with a 12-point group total, which would be good for advancement in all but one other group. Even Napoli's current nine points would be enough to go through in several groups. That's the breaks, though, and Napoli have put themselves in to a tough situation.
Of course, if Marseilles could just kindly get their act together and beat Dortmund at home, then a lot of the stress could be relieved and a simple draw would be enough to get the job done. I don't think I've ever pulled for a French team as hard as I'll be pulling for Marseilles tomorrow.
The match will start Wednesday at 8:45 PM CET/11:45 AM EST. Television coverage will be on Sky Sports 2 in the UK, Sky Sport 3 Italia in Italy, and Fox Sports 1 in America. Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter.