Naples, Italy | AFP | Arsenal coach Unai Emery warned his side are braced for a backlash from Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli, the last Italian team left in Europe this season, who are two goals down going into their Europa League quarter-final, second leg tie in Naples on Thursday.
“Ancelotti is a three-times Champions League winner, they have great players, a big history. They want to do something important,” said Emery.
Ancelotti, who has won titles in each of Europe’s top five leagues, took over from Maurizio Sarri last summer with the promise of breaking the southerner’s title drought.
But Napoli’s hopes of a first Serie A title since 1990 have evaporated as they trail 17 points behind Juventus who need just one more point to wrap up an eighth consecutive Scudetto.
Ancelotti’s hopes are now hanging on winning their first European trophy since a Diego Maradona-inspired side won the UEFA Cup in 1989.
“Tomorrow night we need courage, intelligence and heart,” said Ancelotti, 59, as he targets his first trophy in the second-tier European competition.
Napoli can count on the fiery support of their home fans in the cauldron-like 60,000 capacity San Paolo Stadium where they have lost just once in their last seven meetings with English teams.
“We must seize this opportunity, we need a positive mental attitude and, I repeat, a lot of heart,” said Ancelotti.
“Courage, we had little in London in the first half, there was intelligence in the second half, we must put the heart tomorrow with a high dose of intensity.
“And there will be an extraordinary atmosphere which will help us.”
– ‘Still 50-50’ –
Napoli are the only Italian team left in Europe after Juventus’s shock Champions League exit in the quarter-finals to Ajax.
“Juventus’s defeat shows that European matches are unpredictable,” said former Chelsea boss Ancelotti who won Champions League titles with Real Madrid and AC Milan.
“Napoli are the only Italian team left in Europe and I hope that is still the case on Friday.”
Former PSG coach Emery, meanwhile, is also looking for silverware in his first season in London, having led Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles from 2014 to 2016.
Emery is well aware that Arsenal have a wretched away record this season, while Napoli should be a more formidable force in front of their vociferous fans.
“I still say it’s 50-50, we played the first leg at home and we won, which is the normal result, when you’re playing here against Napoli, they are stronger at home,” said the Spaniard.
“Our mentality and tactic tomorrow is we play to win. We know it’s going to be a different match here at the San Paolo.
“We know 90 minutes here can be long, they have a lot of players with big quality to push them, but we also have players with experience and quality.”
Gunners centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos knows the San Paolo stadium well having played for two seasons in Italy with Genoa.
“We have a lot of players who have played here before, and know the stadium is difficult, we know the situation,” said the Greek international.
The winner will play either Villarreal or Valencia in the semi-finals, then the final in Baku on May 29.