• Spanish coach under pressure after side's inconsistent run
• Arsenal bring strongest available squad with last 16 in sight
• Quiz: spot the real Benítez quotes among the false ones
Rafael Benítez told one of those Rafael Benítez parables on Tuesday lunchtime as he prepared for his Champions League date with destiny and Arsenal. The Napoli manager introduced the man who leads his donkey by the nose and is asked by another man why he does not ride on its back.
He proceeds to lift his child on to the donkey, Benítez continued, and he meets another man. "Why is your child on the donkey, rather than you?" comes the question. The moral of the story, to give it its topical spin, is that no matter what the manager of Napoli chooses to do, there will always be criticism.
Benítez is under pressure. After an excellent start to his Napoli career, in which the stand-out result was the 2-1 home win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, there has been the sound of grumbling over the past month or so and it became very loud indeed after Sunday's 3-3 home draw against Udinese, which left Napoli eight points off the Serie A pace-setters, Juventus.
The television pundits in Naples were tough on Benítez and he was also put on the spot on Tuesday before Wednesday's match against Arsenal. The primary charge put to him was why he would not deviate from his 4-2-3-1 formation, which has not looked secure defensively.
Benítez smiled as he answered with his man-and-a-donkey schtick which, to English ears, seemed to come from the same book as his priest on a mountain of sugar, and white liquid in a bottle has to be milk.
There was a bit of tittering from the audience and it has to be said that in this city of nostalgia and football passion, where Diego Maradona will always be king and everybody is an expert, Benítez retains popular support. There is the recognition that with a new manager and many summer signings, there has to be a period of adjustment.
But the critics are chipping away. In the big away games, they note, namely Arsenal and Dortmund in the Champions League, and Juventus and Roma in Serie A, the team was comfortably beaten. Napoli were dismal in the first half at Arsenal on 1 October, when they allowed the tie to get away from them.
The defenders, by common consent, are not good enough and, if Benítez has struggled to get his messages across to them, it is probably for just that reason: they are not good enough. Yet there is an element of surprise that a tactician like Benítez has not made the tweaks to plug the leaks. Napoli have conceded 14 goals in their last six matches and, to any Italian, defensive neglect is criminal.
There have also been the unhelpful comparisons with his successful predecessor, Walter Mazzarri, who left to join the Spaniard's old club, Internazionale. Napoli face Inter at home on Sunday.
Benítez's arrival, together with the signings, had fired expectations, particularly after last season's second-placed Serie A finish. Though Edinson Cavani had departed for Paris St-Germain, Gonzalo Higuaín arrived from Real Madrid and so did José Callejón and Raúl Albiol. The trio cost £51m.
Higuaín, who almost joined Arsenal, has 10 goals in 18 appearances. There was additional fresh quality in Pepe Reina, Pablo Armero and Dries Mertens.
In the eyes of the supporters, Napoli showed their Champions League pedigree in 2011-12, when they nearly knocked out the eventual winners, Chelsea, in the last 16. If only, they still say, Ashley Cole had not somehow cleared Christian Maggio's effort from off the line in the first leg, when Napoli led 3-1.
The Group F draw was considered in Naples to be a disaster but the opening win over Dortmund had the fans dreaming. Now they need a miracle – either a three-goal victory against Arsenal to make sure that they advance or a better result than Dortmund manage in Marseille.
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has taken no chances, bringing with him his strongest available squad, and he is aware of the importance of topping the group, which Arsenal would do with a draw or better.
The big beasts lie in wait for the runners-up. Arsenal would exit if they lost by three goals and Dortmund won.
For Benítez there is only one way to play with this Napoli team but it is his way; he will travel with the donkey as he sees fit. Champions League progress, against the odds, would smooth the path.