Carlo Ancelotti admits he was “surprised at the timid Napoli start, but Arsenal are not impenetrable and we must retain optimism” in the Europa League quarter-final.
It was a dismal first half performance, with Aaron Ramsey’s goal and a Kalidou Koulibaly deflection allowing Lucas Torreira to score, but the Partenopei improved after the break only to miss a sitter with Piotr Zielinski.
The 2-0 result is a difficult one to overcome, but the Gunners have a notoriously poor away record going into the Stadio San Paolo next Thursday.
“I was surprised, because one of the things we wanted was to have a courageous start. Instead, we were worried, scared and they punished us for our lack of precision,” the Coach told Sky Sport Italia.
“It became very difficult to come back from that. We did to a degree, making fewer errors and creating two very big scoring opportunities for an away goal that would’ve made the second leg considerably less complicated.
“Nonetheless, we hope the fans will play an important part and help us turn this around, shaking off that fear and worry. We made too many mistakes. It’s true Arsenal pressed us and we changed a few things to build out from the back differently, but it was honestly surprising to see so many cheap errors.”
Despite the 2-0 result, Ancelotti remains confident Napoli can make the most of Arsenal’s notoriously poor away record.
“Arsenal do not seem like an impenetrable team. We had the chances and also took control of the game in the second half. We need to play with intensity and sharpness, not frenetically.
“It was a difficult test anyway, it’s more difficult now, but still certainly not impossible. It was a good second half, even if we ran a few risks on the counter, but we need to shake off this timidity we had in the first half.
“As I said, we’ve got the chance to go through, Arsenal are anything but impenetrable at the back and have always conceded goals on their travels, so we must retain faith and optimism.”
Ancelotti opted for Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne as the front two, but seemed more dangerous once Arkadiusz Milik came on.
“The idea was to attack them with pace. We tried to break through their midfield and in the first half it pretty much never worked. It’s not an issue of players as attacking momentum and we’ll certainly have more of that in the second leg.”