Europa League – Arsenal v Napoli – Quarterfinal Round
It’s time for the Europa League quarterfinals, with the first leg kicking off around Europe on 11 April at 3:00pm EST (8:00pm GMT). We covered the draw after it happened last month, and we’ll be taking a look at all four matchups this week.
Up first, we’re going to take a look at the matchup between English club Arsenal and Italian club Napoli. Their leg one match kicks off from Emirates Stadium in London, England on Thursday, 11 April at 9:00pm GMT (3:00pm EST).
What Happened in the Round of 16
Arsenal struggled a bit during the round of 16, losing their leg one match to Rennes in France by the score of 3-1. They scored early, then surrendered three goals down the stretch – including an own goal – and returned home disappointed and needing a big victory. The Gunners’ fans came out in force a week later at Emirates Stadium, and another early goal – by leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – set the tone, and Arsenal never looked back, winning 3-0 to advance 4-3 on aggregate.
Napoli had similar troubles in their matchup with Red Bull Salzburg. They took advantage of the home pitch in the first leg, winning 3-0 with two goals in the first 20 minutes of the match. When the action moved to Austria the following week, they again struck quickly, with Arkadiusz Milik again opening up scoring in the first twenty minutes. The Italians then had to sweat it out, as Red Bull Salzburg scored three times over the remaining 85+ minutes, coming up just short in a 3-1 victory, and assuring that Napoli would advance on the same 4-3 aggregate score.
Back Home in League Play
Arsenal currently finds themselves in fourth place in the English Premier League, tied with fellow Europa League participant Chelsea with 63 points. Should they manage to maintain that position, they would find themselves back in the Champions League again next season. However, it is currently a fierce competition for the final two Champions League positions – Liverpool has already clinched a top four position, and Manchester City is not far behind – so Arsenal will need to start finding some victories down the stretch, especially considering their upcoming schedule.
Napoli has all but clinched a return to the Champions League themselves, though anything can happen over the last two months of the season. They are a distant second in Serie A behind Juventus, but their schedule down the stretch favors them. Four of their remaining seven matches are against clubs in the bottom quarter of the league, including the three clubs currently in relegation position. With their league position seemingly safe, expect them to focus on winning at least this matchup against Arsenal, if not Europa League altogether.
What the Experts are Saying
The clubs’ relative strengths have made this matchup as close to a toss-up as you can get. Likely because of Arsenal’s loss to Everton in Premier League action on Sunday, Napoli has the slightest of edge in the overall matchup, at least according to FiveThirtyEight. Arsenal is favored in Thursday’s match, given a 45% chance of winning in front of the friendly crowd at Emirates. I would expect similar odds for Napoli when they host next week, though the overall odds of advancing could change depending on the results Thursday night.
What We’re Thinking
Arsenal has not lost a home match in Europa League this season, accumulating a 4-1-0. In fact, across all competitions this season, they’ve lost only three matches at Emirates Stadium (one in league play, one in the FA Cup, and one in the Carabao Cup). And they are probably lucky to be hosting leg one this round, as they’ve lost the first leg in the previous two rounds.
Napoli, on the other hand, probably wants to escape with at least a draw in leg one, especially since they’ve only lost once at home this season (one league game). They’ve outscored their opponents by eight goals at home in European competition this season (versus a -1 goal differential on the road), so they to like the home pitch advantage.
This one is truly too close to call, so expect an exciting match one way or another.
Until next time…