Weblog: The football punter
BT Sport 2, 8pm Thursday
Napoli, the only Italian side left in Europe, don’t plan on exiting the Europa League just yet even though they face the tallest of orders to get the better of Arsenal in the second leg of their semi-final.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men, Serie A’s lone standard bearers in Europe following Juventus’ shock demise from the Champions League, trail the Gunners 2-0 after a poor effort at the Emirates last Thursday.
Back in Naples, however, they are an entirely different proposition and can avenge that loss in north London.
They look a decent bet to win the game given Arsenal’s poor away record, although 3-1 about them qualifying doesn’t make much appeal. Don’t forget that if Unai Emery’s men do find the net the Neapolitans will have to score four and that could be beyond them.
There is no doubt that Napoli are fortunate to still be in the tie. Arsenal had plenty of chances at the Emirates but took only two, one through Aaron Ramsey, the other courtesy of a Kalidou Koulibaly own goal.
But at the San Paolo they are a sterner proposition, while Arsenal on the road can be poor.
Ancelotti’s side, guaranteed to finish second or third in Serie A, can throw everything at this tie and have been in hiding as a team since Sunday’s win at Chievo.
In front of their own adoring fans they have suffered just one loss in 13 months and that was at the hands of Juventus. Victims in that period have included Milan, Lazio and, in this year’s Champions League, Liverpool. They have also won both subsequent home Europa League ties, 2-0 versus Zurich and 3-0 against Salzburg. They’ve also draw with Paris Saint-Germain.
And Arsenal’s travels haven’t been a pretty thing of late. Monday night’s narrow triumph over 10-man Watford was just their third away success since the end of November. They have lost both away legs of the knockout stage, at Bate Borisov and Rennes.
On the flip side, they are on a run of five wins in six and in Emery boast a manager with the ultimate pedigree in getting a Europa League job done having won the competition three times with Sevilla.
Ancelotti got his tactics wrong at the Emirates where they were exposed by an Arsenal pressing game; but Emery’s mindset was every bit as scrambled at Vicarage Road on Monday night when Arsenal looked a mess clinging on to a one-goal lead despite a man advantage for 79 minutes.
Napoli will have to be positive against an Arsenal defence who will presumably be shored up but still remains work in progress.
The second-best team in Italy beat all-comers at home and they can continue that sequence. Take the 7-10 by all means though the possibility of something bigger encourages a bet on Napoli covering a 0.75 spread at 43-50. A one-goal win means half the bet is won, anything bigger is a full payday.
Napoli -0.75 on Asian handicap