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Preview: Arsenal vs. Napoli - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of the first leg of the Europa League last-eight clash between Arsenal and Napoli.

Two of the Europa League's big guns face off at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening as Arsenal and Napoli battle it out for a place in the semi-finals.

The Gunners cruised through the group stage but have made hard work of their two knockout-stage fixtures thus far, while Napoli travel to London for this first leg on the back of wins over also-rans FC Zurich and Red Bull Salzburg.


Arsenal

Alexander Lacazette celebrates his goal against Newcastle United with Arsenal teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on April 4, 2019© Reuters

Unai Emery's debut campaign in English football can still go one of two ways as we approach the final weeks of the season. The Gunners remain on course for a top-four finish in the Premier League and Europa League glory, though that can all change in an instant.

After steadily building momentum for a number of weeks, culminating in a convincing 2-0 win over Newcastle United last week to extend their winning league run on home soil to 10 matches, Arsenal came crashing back down to earth with a 1-0 loss to Everton on Sunday.

On a weekend when top-four rivals Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were not in action, with the Champions League instead taking priority for them, the Gunners blew their chance to consolidate their place in the top four.

Instead, Chelsea's 2-0 triumph at home to West Ham United on Monday leaves Emery's men in fifth place and with plenty of work still to do if they are to reach the Champions League via the traditional league route.

Should Arsenal finish lower than fifth, they will only have their away form to blame. At home they have been very impressive this term, winning 14 and drawing two of their 17 league matches at the Emirates Stadium, including that ongoing 10-match winning streak.

It is not just domestically that Arsenal have looked poor on their travels, though, as they crashed to first-leg defeats at BATE Borisov and Rennes in the Europa League last 32 and last 16 respectively, before recovering with victories on home soil.

The 1-0 loss in Belarus was embarrassing to say the least, but Arsenal needed just four minutes of the second leg to level up the tie and they went on to progress quite comfortably in the end.

Against Rennes, meanwhile, a side sitting in the bottom half of Ligue 1 at the time, Arsenal threw away a one-goal advantage to lose the first leg 3-1 in France. Again, they looked a completely different side in the reverse fixture and progressed 4-3 on aggregate.

Arsenal have been beaten just once in their last 17 home games in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, with their only defeat in that run coming against Ostersunds FK in the last 32 in 2017-18.

With home advantage in the first leg of this quarter-final tie, Emery's side cannot afford to travel to the Stadio San Paolo requiring a victory if they are to match - or indeed better - their semi-final finish of last season.

Recent form in Europa League: WWLWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DLWWWL


Napoli

Dries Mertens celebrates scoring for Napoli on March 31, 2019© Reuters

Napoli had aspirations of making it far in the Champions League at the start of the season, only to be dealt a tricky hand in the group phase.

The Partenopei were drawn in a group with heavyweight sides Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool, as well as Red Star Belgrade, and could only manage a third-placed finish, despite losing just one match.

That loss came at Anfield in December in what was essentially a straight shootout for qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Even accounting for that 1-0 reverse, Napoli finished with nine points - five of those coming against Liverpool and PSG - making them the best third-placed side in the group stage.

Carlo Ancelotti has had to switch focus to the Europa League over the past couple of months, seeing his side ease past Zurich 5-1 on aggregate and Salzburg 4-3 over two legs in the round of 16.

Napoli did not make life easy for themselves in that most recent European fixture as, after opening the scoring early on in Austria to make it 4-0 on aggregate, they conceded three times to leave the door open for their opponents.

That win means the Italian side have reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup/Europa League for the third time in their history. They fell at the semi-final stage in 2014-15 but won the competition in 1988-89 with a side featuring Diego Maradona.

Ancelotti's side are not in the best of form ahead of this captivating Anglo-Italian affair, though, as they lost 2-1 at Empoli last week and followed that up with a 1-1 home draw against Genoa on Sunday, leaving them 20 points adrift of runaway Serie A leaders Juventus.

Challenging for the title, as they did under Maurizio Sarri last season, was always going to be difficult for Ancelotti in his first campaign at the Stadio San Paolo.

Matching 2017-18's second-placed finish and winning the Europa League would make this a superb season for the veteran coach, though. To achieve that, the Partenopei may have to do something they have not managed before: win away to an English side in European competition.

Recent form in Europa League: WWWL
Recent form (all competitions): DLWWLD


Team News

Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly pictured in September 2018© Reuters

Sokratis Papastathopoulos is back from suspension for Arsenal after missing the second leg against Rennes and, given that he is now banned for two domestic matches, he seems certain to start this one.

Fellow centre-back Laurent Koscielny missed the defeat to Everton and remains doubtful for Thursday night, while midfielder Granit Xhaka is also rated as 50-50 by Emery.

Emery named Serie A-bound Aaron Ramsey and top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench at Goodison Park, so both men are in contention to start against Napoli.

Four Arsenal players have experience of playing against Napoli in the Italian top flight - Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Shkodran Mustafi and Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Napoli will have highly-rated defender Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic back in their ranks, meanwhile, after both players missed their side's last European match through suspension.

Lorenzo Insigne and Faouzi Ghoulam both returned to the Napoli squad at the weekend, with the former boasting 13 goals and seven assists this season.

Elsewhere, Amadou Diawara and Raul Albiol are carrying injuries and David Ospina - on loan from Arsenal but eligible to play against his parent club - is also expected to miss out because of a head injury suffered last month.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Iwobi; Aubameyang, Lacazette

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Malcuit, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Rui; Callejon, Allan, Fabian Ruiz, Zielinski; Imsigne, Mertens


Head To Head

Arsenal and Napoli have met just twice before in Europe, both games coming in the 2013-14 season.

The Gunners won 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in the group stage of the Champions League, before losing by the same scoreline at the Stadio San Paolo.

Napoli have lost seven and drawn one of their previous eight away matches against English opposition, going down to Burnley, Leeds United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and indeed Arsenal.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 2-1 Napoli

Arsenal, quite simply, need a lead to take into next week's second leg in Italy. The Gunners have been terrible on their travels all season, in complete contrast to their home form. Playing the second leg on home soil would have worked out better for the Londoners, but Emery's side should at least pick up victory in Thursday's match.



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Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in action during his side's Premier League clash with West Ham on January 12, 2019
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Thursday's key events


ATHLETICS
· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

MARATHON SWIMMING
· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

BOXING
· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

DIVING
· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

HOCKEY
· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

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