Arsenal fans will have travelled back from Naples on Thursday morning feeling like a wounded soldier who has just fled from battle; deeply ashamed yet equally thankful to be alive.
Indeed as an Arsenal fan I am glad, yet as a football fan I feel thoroughly aggrieved for Napoli. 12 points gained from the group of death and the best you have to hope for is playing in the same competition as the likes of Tromso Idrettslag every Thursday evening.
On Wednesday night Arsenal qualified for the Champions League knock-out stages in the worst way possible; a 2-0 defeat. It is very rare in football that a team can lose so disappointingly yet ultimately triumph.
Arsenal looked confused, uncertain, and unsettled for the majority of the match. The main crux of my criticism stops there however as it was indeed a confusing, uncertain, and unsettling state of affairs the north London side found themselves in.
At 1-0 down with four minutes to go Arsenal were sitting handsomely at the top of the group- job well done we would have said. Five minutes later and after a goal from Grosskreutz in Marseille, and another in Naples, we're fighting for our Champions league survival.
It does however seem undeniable that Arsenal's biggest mistake from Wednesday night was their seeming lack of ambition. The Gunners are better than Napoli; as was demonstrated in the annihilation at the Emirates back in October.
In retrospect Arsenal's uncharacteristic caution was the difference between finishing first or second: between the possibility of facing perhaps Olympiakos or Bayern Munich.
Caution killed Arsenal on Wednesday. Champions do not try to survive, they always aim to kill.
Arsenal of course were not helped by Mikel Arteta's dismissal in the last quarter of an hour of the match. It was certainly shameful but what can you say? It was not down to inexperience or short-fused temperament- It was the sort of thing that has happened to some of the best captain's in the world; we all remember the 2006 World Cup final with Zinedine Zidane.
To Napoli's credit both of their goals from the ex-Real Madrid contingent were pretty unstoppable. Napoli always looked dangerous throughout; they were undeniably frightening at times, especially in the second half.
We must however accept that for the Italian side it was psychologically much easier- all or nothing, win or lose, qualify or die. Unlike Arsenal Napoli had no dilemma to play for the draw or a narrow loss.
It must also be noted how unequivocally unjust the whole situation feels. Zenit St Petersburg receive six points and progress to the next stage, Napoli receive 12 and fail by the smallest of margins. The latter's fans have real cause for complaint.
Either way Arsenal qualify, Napoli lose valiantly all we'll all go on watching the best club football competition on earth.
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