Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain is hoping to avoid the “horrible” situation of beating Arsenal but still failing to advance to the Last 16 of the Champions League when the sides meet tonight.
A 1-3 defeat away to Borussia Dortmund a fortnight ago has left Rafael Benitez’s Napoli third in Group F on nine points, the same as the second-placed Bundesliga side and three adrift of leaders Arsenal.
It means Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli still have everything to play for, and there will be as much attention paid to proceedings in Marseille as Napoli’s San Paolo stadium.
For Napoli, the stark reality is that they could finish on 12 points and still finish third and out of the competition — a scenario Argentinian striker Higuain cannot come to terms with.
“I’ve never seen a side eliminated from the competition with nine or 12 points — it’s a horrible situation to be in,” Higuain told Sky Sport 24. “All we can do is focus on winning our match. If we win and still go out with 12 points, then there’s not much we can do.”
Arsenal, who hold a five-point lead over Liverpool in the Premier League, head to the San Paolo as slight favourites. Although a welcome state of affairs, Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini admits the Gunners face a “busy” spell with trips to Manchester City and Chelsea all on the horizon.
“It is going to be a busy period for us and we just have to focus,” said Flamini, who rejoined Arsenal on a free transfer in the summer after being released by AC Milan.
“What would be good for us will be three victories, but we know it is not going to be easy because we will be playing three big teams with a lot of quality.”
For Arsenal, right-back Carl Jenkinson looks set to again stand in for Bacary Sagna, who is sidelined by a hamstring problem.
>> While Arsenal need only a draw to go through as leaders, Napoli need to beat the Gunners to have any chance of securing a runner-up spot which Dortmund could hold on to with victory in France.
>> If both Napoli and Dortmund win, all three teams would finish on 12 points and the standings would be decided by head-to-head clashes and goal difference.
>> If, however, Marseille upset the form book and beat Dortmund a draw would be enough for the Serie A side to secure the runner-up spot and follow Arsenal into the knockout phase.
Napoli vs Arsenal, on Ten Action, 01:15 (Thursday)
Chelsea vs Steaua Bucharest, on Ten Sports, 01:15 (Thu)
Barcelona vs Celtic, on Ten HD, 01:15 (Thu)