Arsenal lose, but make it to the second round anyway as Napoli crash out
• The best images from the match in Naples
So Arsenal make it, despite that second-half wobble. They'll head back to Blighty beaten, and facing a tough second-round draw, but happy enough to survive in the end. Poor old Rafa meanwhile saw his team leave it a wee bit too late, so near and yet so far. But at least he'll have the chance to make it a hat-trick of Uefa Cup / Europa Leagues. That's got to count for something, no?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, means Dortmund win the group, while Arsenal advance in second place. Something to do with the mini-league between the three clubs who finished on 12 points, don't ask.
Nope! The final whistle comes almost immediately after the restart! Arsenal are through in second place, and Napoli are out - unless Marseille score an equaliser against Dortmund in the next couple of minutes!
Insigne flicks the ball inside from the left. Callejon flicks one over the advancing Szczesny and into the empty net! What a finish! And what a finish we've got here! Can Napoli score a crucial third in the, er, final 30 seconds?
90 min +1: Maggio whips one in from the right, but Mertesacker is staunch and heads clear. The home side look broken.
90 min: There will be three added minutes. That's 90 seconds per goal for Napoli.
89 min: It's gone quiet all right! Because here's what's happened in Marseille! Dortmund have scored what looks like a late winner, Kevin Grosskreutz scoring on 86 minutes! That's effectively put Napoli out, unless they can score twice in the closing couple of minutes! And there are repercussions for Arsenal, too, who are now second in the group and are in danger of facing the big boys in the second round!
86 min: It's gone a wee bit quiet. Nervous tension, I'll be bound.
84 min: Ramsey and Fernandez are both booked for a bit of playground nonsense. "Wow, you used my email (53 min)!" writes a happy Alek Silberblatt. "I broke my MBM/OBO cherry! Then I noticed I wrote Sao Paolo, not San Paolo. [Covers face after missing a sitter from six yards.] Although I'm a third-generation American, I do know that Napoli is in Italy and not Portugal or Brazil. At least my proofreading standards are up to Grauniad snuff."
82 min: Armero goes on a magnificent run down the left, and whips a low ball straight through the Arsenal six-yard box. That only needed the poke of a toe, but neither Insigne nor Mertens could do more than flash a foot at the ball as it begged to be converted. Real hearts-in-mouths time for Arsenal, for a second Napoli goal now would set up one hell of a denouement.
79 min: Arsenal do well to take a little heat out of this situation, by stroking the ball around the back awhile. A lot of whistling going on. It's like a Roger Whittaker convention, only all the delegates are on PCP.
76 min: Arteta, who pushed his luck with a few challenges in Dortmund, comes through the back of Callejon. The referee has no choice but to wave a second yellow. Arteta goes through the motions of looking appalled at the decision, but he's off. And for Napoli, who can't rely on Marseille, this is suddenly on!
74 min: Monreal comes on for Rosicky, who takes our riff with him.
Finally, the breakthrough! Insigne slides a short pass forward to Higuain on the edge of the D. The striker's got his back to goal, but turns quickly to the left before threading a shot with pace into the bottom right, past Szczesny's outstretched hand! That's a stunning finish, and as things stand, Napoli will be joining Arsenal in the second round!
72 min: It's pretty much all Napoli, but they're going nowhere. "Not bad for a lad brought up in the countryside, good old Rusticky," writes Mick Daly. I'm really not sure whether I should be encouraging this.
69 min: Callejon flicks the ball round the corner down the right for Higuain, who is in space in the area but bangs a dreadful shot miles over the bar for three rugby points. Napoli haven't done much tonight, and yet they could easily have put a couple away. They'll have a few regrets tonight if Marseille hold on against Dortmund (which they are doing at the moment).
68 min: Cazorla is replaced by Ramsey. Insigne has a whack from 25 yards, but it's straight down Szczesny's yap.
66 min: Giroud is booked for fannying around with the ball at his feet, long after the flag has gone up for offside. He had been set clear by Arteta down the inside right, and now look how something which momentarily looked so good has ended.
64 min: Arteta is booked for a late waft of the leg at Higuain. "Love the way ball is glued to Rosticky's foot," writes Steve Jelen. Very good. If the Czech playmaker falls victim to a vomiting bug before the 90 minutes are up, we'll be on for a full house, I think.
62 min: Yes, the home side really are going for this now. Callejon scoots clear of Koscielny down the inside-right. He's free, but he's also the latest player to hesitate fatally when he's got a chance to shoot, and though he eventually gets an effort away, he drags it right across the front of goal and to the left of the target.
61 min: Napoli have stepped it up, though. Insigne isn't far away from getting a toe to a cross whipped in from the right. Then Mertens has a volley from the right-hand edge of the D, getting on the end of a looping cross from Armero, who at least hasn't retreated into his shell after that appalling miss.
58 min: What a chance Napoli have just spurned! Insigne flicked a pass down the left wing for Armero, and the full back's free in the area! But he hesitates, then panics, then considers rolling the ball across to Higuain, then panics again, then hesitates some more, then finally chips weakly straight at Szczesny, who does well to avoid bellowing a guffaw. What a polite young man the Arsenal keeper is. That was an astonishing miss.
57 min: Are words not enough? They're not, are they. There's no point me taking offence, I may as well admit defeat and guide you in the direction of this gallery. God knows what's in it, mind you, this match has been a crock.
56 min: Benitez's patience finally snaps. Pandev is replaced by Insigne.
54 min: Napoli pin Arsenal back awhile without really threatening to break through. Arsenal's back line holds well. Finally the ball's skelped upfield, and Giroud so nearly latches onto it, but Cabral rushes from his area to hammer clear. "Here's hoping Rosflicky provides a beautifully deft assist in the second half," quips Daniel Rice, refusing to let this riff die. He's here all week, ladies and gentlemen, try the pizza cooked in an oven so hot it only takes 120 seconds to cook.
53 min: This is appalling. Napoli are pathetic. Arsenal are doing nothing either, but again, they don't have to bother, just keep things locked down. "I'm watching this in East Boston," begins Alek Silberblatt, "and also noted the nearly empty lower tier in the Sao Paolo. This struck me as very odd as this is close to a do-or-die game for Napoli. I wondered if security was the reason, but a bit of Googling informs me that while it's partially as a result of crappy sightlines in the lowest rows - the hoardings get in the way - it's mostly due to the rain. Rain?!? Do Napoli fans melt easily? I'm guessing that this is just not done in your neck of the woods, and it's unheard of here in NFL stadia (unless the home side is complete trash, like Washington this year). Hell, a foot or more of snow and/or -40F wind chills won't stop seats from getting filled."
50 min: Ozil has a rake from 25 yards, just to the right of goal, but his attempt to find the opposite corner is all out of whack. The ball bounces wide left of goal in the 'Apologetic' manner.
48 min: All a load of first-touch nonsense at the moment. Mertens and Pandev have both tried to spring the Arsenal back line with through balls, but their aim was out. Meanwhile Marion Cameron, aka The Weaver, has this to say with reference to Christian Maggio (7 min) and Daniel Rice (29 min): "So here's to you, Tomáš Rosický/ your surname gives us pedants things to do / hoo hoo hoo." That earworm should keep us going in the event of this match failing to pick up.
And we're off again! No changes. But Napoli will require a change in attitude, or chances are they'll be playing Europa League football in the new year. Three goals at least they'll need, unless Marseille hold on and do them a favour, in which case a single-goal win will suffice. Still, he'll get a chance to retain his trophy if that's the case. Anyway, let's see how this pans out.
GUARDIAN SPORT HALF-TIME ADVENT CALENDAR
Armero sends a poor shot goalwards from tight out on the left, and that's pretty much that for the half. Not much going on in the name of entertainment, but Arsenal won't give a flying one. They're in total control here, without offering much up front admittedly , but then they don't need to. For those who want a goal or two, this might get better, though: Rafa Benitez will have to throw off the shackles in the second half, because Marseille can't be relied on to hold Dortmund with ten men.
43 min: Arsenal have frustrated Napoli in the grand fashion during this half, but Szczesny nearly undoes all the good work by trying to flick a clever-clever clearance over the onrushing Higuain. The ball flies at the striker's head. Higuain fires a spilt-second header wide right. Blimey. Gulp.
42 min: Flamini is bodychecked as he tries to break into the Napoli area to the right of the D, chasing a clever Cazorla pass. The referee has his whistle in his mouth, but doesn't operate it by blowing air through it. Arsenal aren't happy, and no wonder.
41 min: Dzemaili is booked for an agricultural lunge on Koscielny, who had momentarily turned into Garrincha. He'd mopped up a dangerous Napoli attack by flicking the ball over Maggio's head in the Arsenal area, then juggling it along the left wing! Magnificent stuff, the sort of entertaining play that should by rights be set to the sweet strains of Sweet Georgia Brown.
38 min: Higuain, in the centre circle, hooks a majestic first-time ball down the right wing to release Maggio into acres of space. Not for the first time in the match, the Napoli captain's touch is risible. He's got a chance to lift the ball over the advancing Szczesny and into an empty net, but blasts the thing miles into the sky. No feeling at all. That wasn't the easiest of chances, at high speed and at a tight angle, but nevertheless that was an astonishingly poor attempt, not even close.
36 min: Mertens is booked for a high-kicky on Rosicky. There's an entry designed to make Daniel Rice (29 mins) even more unhappy.
34 min: Dimitri Payet of Marseille has picked up a second yellow against Borussia Dortmund. It's an early bath for him. It's still 1-1 in France, but a victory for Dortmund looks on the cards now. Which means Napoli really will have to go for this three-goal win. Don't bet heavily on this game ending 0-0.
31 min: Callejon cuts inside from the left and sends a looping shot along an arc of futility and over the Arsenal crossbar. Szczesny had that one covered. It probably should have been a corner, there may well have been a little nick off Jenkinson. But the home side aren't getting it.
29 min: Arsenal will be very happy with the way this is going. It's an appalling spectacle of tat and nonsense, but it'll do for Arsene Wenger's men, who haven't really had to break sweat yet. "Was Roskicky (16 min) a typo, or an impromptu nickname given because he just fouled someone?" asks Daniel Rice. "If the latter, hats off to you. If the former, you deserve a Roskickying for getting my hopes up about the MBM quality." I think you already know the answer to that, Daniel. And anyway, hopes about the MBM quality? You're only setting yourself up for a fall. We've promised nothing. And have been delivering it for 15 years.
26 min: The first bit of forward momentum by Napoli for a while, and Pandev is in space down the inside right. Instead of taking his man on, he decides to check back, in the hope of being able to spin round and whip a cross in. But by then he's surrounded by red shirts and the chance of starting something is gone. Napoli look a wee bit stilted and mechanical. Benitez's critics will feel vindicated right this minute.
23 min: The first shot in anger by either side sees Giroud batter a shot straight at Cabral from a tight-ish angle down the inside-left channel. The ball, parried well by the keeper, rebounds to Flamini on the edge of the area. Flamini decides to hunker down for a little sleep instead of shooting. An astonishing way to spurn a chance.
21 min: A bit of possession for Arsenal. In fact, quite a lot of possession for Arsenal. They're nearly hoist by their own petard, though, as Mertesacker dallies in the middle far too long, and is suddenly surrounded by five yellow shirts. He's lucky that his piss-poor hoof upfield, performed in panic, was hit hard enough to twang off Callejon's grid and rebound out of play for a goal kick.
18 min: Ozil lifts the ball in the vague direction of Giroud. It's not much of a pass, but Giroud contorts himself in mid air and so nearly brings the ball down. If he'd managed it, he'd have been free on goal down the inside-right channel. Then again, if he'd managed it, he'd currently be out-earning David Copperfield on the magic circuit.
16 min: Roskicky slides in late on Higuain as the striker was preparing to hoick a shot goalwards from 30 yards. Free kick. Napoil showcase a training ground joke which begins with a Pandev pitching wedge and peters out with Callejon passing the ball out wide to himself on the right wing, but not finding his man. One of those, y'know. It'll be a direct shot next time, you'd have thought.
14 min: Souleymane Diawara has equalised for Marseille. Rafa's expression hasn't changed much, mind.
13 min: This is all Napoli at the moment. Pandev attempts to split the Arsenal back four in half with a clever back-heeled volley, hoping to release Callejon into the area down the inside-right, but Koscielny heads clear. Pandev displays no little chutzpah in claiming a penalty. The ball hit Koscielny square in the coupon!
11 min: Napoli nearly benefit from another bouncing ball, this time down the inside-right channel. Higuain is the man after it, but his attempt to find Pandev alone in the middle with a first-time hook is charged down by Koscielny. "I'd like Rafa to go back to England and take on the role of advisor to David Moyes," dreams Ian Copestake, who is a Liverpool fan I'll be bound. "Imagine the fun! Rafa would be like Winston Wolfe giving clean up instructions in the form of parables, while the distance between David's blinks gets ever longer."
9 min: The busy looking Mertens loops a ball down the inside left for Pandev to race onto. He's got a yard on Mertesacker, but hesitates when he has the chance to blooter the ball goalwards from the edge of the area. The bouncing ball drifts left, and it's not such an easy chance. Pandev guides a shot goalwards, but it's weak and straight at Szczesny.
7 min: Where did the ball go, Christian Maggio? About 15 yards in front of you, as a result of the heaviest touch seen in professional football since players stopped running around in hobnail boots, that's where! Cazorla's interception nearly sends Giroud scampering away down the inside-left, but Albiol reads the danger well and shuttles the ball back to his keeper.
6 min: Mertens twists and turns down the inside-right channel and slides a ball into the area for Higuain. The striker hasn't timed his run half as well this time, and he's rightly flagged off. But Arsenal want to watch this. An early goal for Napoli would set a few pulses racing.
4 min: Robert Lewandowski has given Borussia Dortmund an early lead in Marseille. On the touchline, a grim-faced Rafa Benitez considers existential issues.
2 min: A slightly weird start, with first Higuain, and then down the other end Giroud, being sent clear on goal before being flagged offside. A suggestion that both men could actually have timed their runs perfectly. Higuain's burst down the inside left certainly looked more than decent, but nothing's doing according to the folk with the flags, and we move on.
And we're off! Napoli get the ball rolling in a half-empty stadium. Still, there's a fair old atmosphere in the place. "Though it's an invitation to get jumped all over, is Wilshere rested or not one of Arsenal's best XI? Nor England's?" wonders Gary Naylor. "I know he's been out for a while, but he's been back for a while too." I'm aware that this is Modern Football On The Internet, where everything is binary, but can I answer that with a "dunno"? He's probably not the next Paul Gascoigne, but neither is he useless. He's decent enough at playing football. Glad to have been of help!
Altogether now! Sing! "Ce sont les meilleures équipes /Sie sind die allerbesten/ Mannschaften / The main event / Die Bullshit / Die Marketing Bullshit / Les Grandes Marketing Bullshit / The Champions!" Yes, the teams are out. Arsenal are kitted out in their famous red-and-white shirts, while hosts Napoli are playing in their trademark powder blu... actually, hold on, they're wearing their third-choice yellow shirts with blue sash. Unnecessary away changes are bad enough, but switching the home strip for the sake of it? What is this, rugby? Naw naw naw. A minute's applause for the late Nelson Mandela, and we'll be off in a minute.
Napoli are without the injured Pepe Reina: Rafael Cabral, Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Armero, Dzemaili, Behrami, Callejon, Pandev, Mertens, Higuain.
Subs: Colombo, Bruno Uvini, Britos, Insigne, Cannavaro, Inler, Zapata.
Arsenal leave Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey on the bench, with Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini coming in: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.
Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Wilshere, Walcott, Ramsey, Monreal, Bendtner.
Referee:Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
It's crunch time for Arsenal, a defining moment in their season! To be fair, this is a sentence that's been uttered a few times already during this campaign, and Arsenal have done a fairly decent job of stepping up to the plate in their big tests so far. They saw off Liverpool with a breezy disdain. They won magnificently in Borussia Dortmund. They were unlucky to taste defeat at Old Trafford. And they were an inch of wood away from beating resolute Everton the other day. Napoli are next up, and Arsenal only need a draw to make it through a tough Champions League group. Even a two-goal defeat would do. This is very much on for the Premier League leaders, who have been passing muster this season pretty much from the get-go.
There are dangers, of course. Should Arsenal find themselves on the end of a three-goal spanking this evening - and Napoli have scored seven goals in their last two games - they'll be in danger of being unceremoniously cashiered into the Europa League (which would happen if Borussia Dortmund win in Marseille and jump ahead of Arsenal on the head-to-head). But this would seem unlikely. Napoli may have been finding the net of late, but their overall form is dismal: they've only won one of their last five, losing three. Perhaps the major worry for Arsenal is that Napoli boss Rafael Benitez seems popular enough with the fans, despite recent results, and is relaxed enough to recite fables about donkeys in his press conferences, the sort of allegories which people can disingenuously pretend not to understand and deliberately misrepresent as Typical Benitez Craziness instead. If Rafa can transmit that sanguinity to his players, Napoli may yet find a way to save their Champions League skin.
A draw will be enough for both sides, mind, if Marseille pick up their first Champions League points of the season by beating last year's hip craze, Borussia "they're rad, dad" Dortmund. I could go on, butgiven that Dortmund have head-to-head advantages over both Arsenal and Napoli, Arsenal currently have a three-point advantage over their two rivals, and Arsenal and Napoli have yet to ascertain their head-to-head situation, Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli can all feasibly finish in positions one, two or three. Hold onto your hats, it could be quite a ride (unless both games end 0-0 after no incident whatsoever).
Kick off: 7.45pm in the British winter system, 8.45pm in the Stadio San Paolo.