EUROPA LEAGUE PREVIEW: Arsenal v Napoli
PUBLISHED: 17:05 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:05 11 April 2019
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Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could start for the Gunners against Napoli in their Europa League quarter-final first leg on Thursday.
Illness had restricted the forward to cameo appearances in the North Lonndoners last two Premier League games.
Former Borussia Dortmund forward Aubameyang, 29, is the club’s top scorer with 22 goals in all competitions this season.
“He’s getting better and can start,” said Emirates boss Unai Emery.
“He had a small problem and he has taken antibiotics for his illness,” added Emery. “That’s the main reason he didn’t start those two matches.”
Granit Xhaka has returned to training ahead of Arsenal’s crucial clash with the southern Italians.
The influential midfielder who suffered a groin injury during Switzerland’s qualifier with Denmark during at the end of March took part in the Gunners open training session held at the club’s HQ London Colney as witnessed by the Islington Gazette on Wednesday morning.
Club captain Laurent Koscielny also took part in the session before the North Londoners host the Serie A outfit after recovering from a foot injury.
Napoli led by former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti come into the game on the back of indifferent league form having drawn 1-1 at home to Genoa at the weekend after a weakened side lost 2-1 to Empoli last week.
The Neapolitans sit second in the Italian league, albeit a whopping 20 points behind leaders Juventus and will be focusing all their efforts on the match in the capital.
Forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Simone Verdi have been included in Napoli’s squad after injury.
The former played the final quarter of Napoli’s 1-1 draw with Genoa last Sunday, having missed the previous three games with a thigh injury.
The 27-year-old Italy international has scored 13 goals this season, while Verdi, 26, has scored four times but did not play against Genoa.
Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti has fond memories of leading his Bayern Munich team to a 10-2 aggregate humiliation of Arsene Wenger’s Gunners two seasons ago, but insists his current side face a different proposition against the North Londoners.
“That game with Bayern is only a good memory but they have a different manager so it will be a totally different story,” said the Italian.
“Arsenal is still competitive in the Premier League and in Europe, and we have a lot of respect for this team.
“Unai Emery is a fantastic manager with a lot of knowledge. It’s a new era for the club with a different style and a different team because new players have arrived.”
Emery will be looking to take a lead into the second leg at the atmospheric Stadio San Paolo on Thursday week but will need a response from his side after their disappointing 1-0 defeat by Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday.
A first half goal from Phil Jagielka clinched the victory for the Toffees as the Gunners failed to leapfrog bitter rivals Spurs into the top four.
Speaking after the match Emery previewed the week ahead: “We are thinking about our match on Thursday and the Premier League game against Watford away.
“We need to be consistent in the next matches and if we do that we can win. There’s some frustration collectively with the result, but we won’t change our idea and our work.”
Arsenal and Napoli have met twice before in Europe, home and away in the group stages of the Champions League in 2013-14.
Wenger’s Arsenal beat the Italian side 2-0 at Emirates Stadium aided by a superb display from Mesut Ozil, before losing by the same scoreline at the Stadio San Paolo.
With Chelsea beating West Ham on Monday evening the Gunners slipped back into fifth place with six games remaining.
Emery is a course and distance winner in the Europa League having lifted it three times in a row with Sevilla and is well aware of the importance of the tournament offering a place at the top table of continental football with the Champions League next term to the winners.
However Emery is juggling with league fixtures and has a vital game at Watford on Monday prior to the second leg.
The Hornets will be buzzing after reaching the FA Cup final after beating Wolves in a dramatic semi-final at Wembley and will be a tough opponent for the Gunners in a must-win match for Emery.
The Islington Gazette will be covering both legs of the clash with Napoli as well as the league game at Vicarage Road. See our Arsenal Facebook page, website and newspaper for our extensive coverage on all levels of the club.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth for in-depth coverage on the vital clash from North London and southern Italy over the next seven days @laythy29