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'On edge' Arsenal sneak through on dramatic evening

FOOTBALL can be a cruel, cruel sport sometimes.

Just ask Napoli, who finish their Champions League group campaign with 12 points yet somehow find themselves ejected from the competition before the knockout stages.

Jose Callejon's stoppage-time goal last night confirmed the Serie A side's valedictory 2-0 win over 10-man Arsenal but an equally late effort by Borussia Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz 700 miles away in Marseille ensured that it was them who joined the Barclays Premier League leaders in the last 16 and not Rafa Benitez's Italian outfit. Dortmund's goal was sufficient, too, to earn them first place in Group F and ensure that they will be seeded in Monday's draw and so avoid the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris St Germain.

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will rue that development but it is Europa League-bound Napoli who have more cause for complaint. Gonzalo Higuain, who was a summer target for Arsenal, scored after 73 minutes to finally break the determined resistance of the visitors in Naples and, after Mikel Arteta was shown a second yellow card, it seemed that they could go on and ensure their place in the next round. However, by the time that Callejon chipped in a second, Dortmund had already taken the lead in France, meaning that Napoli needed to win by three clear goals. Time ran out.

The disappointment was exacerbated by the fact Napoli started brightly, Goran Pandev forcing an early save from Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal, though, should have gone ahead on 23 minutes but Mesut Ozil completely missed his kick after the ball dropped to him inside the Napoli penalty area.

That would be one of the few chances the English side enjoyed, though, as the hosts dominated. Cristian Maggio clipped an angled shot over the bar, a Szczesny kick struck Higuain's head and dropped just past a post and Pablo Armero shot straight at the goalkeeper before the goal finally came. Higuain turned inside the right side of the penalty area and drove a low shot into the corner of the net.

Arsenal were then reduced to 10 men when Mikel Arteta fouled Callejon but, although the same player clipped in a late second, it was too little, too late. "We are happy to be through because it was very difficult," said Wenger. "The most difficult is when you are in between, do we attack or defend? As long as we didn't score, they had hope. Maybe what helped was that Dortmund were drawing 1-1 and maybe they put the handbrake on, that's why we didn't get too much pressure in the end. Naples played well but we were a little bit on edge for some minutes, it was nervous in the end, but we got through."

Back in London, Chelsea enjoyed a much more sedate evening, securing first place in Group E with a 1-0 defeat of Steaua Bucharest. Jose Mourinho's had already qualified for the last 16 prior to the final match of the group campaign against the already-eliminated Romanians but although Demba Ba's early goal earned victory, the evidence of this performance suggests the 2012 winners are unlikely to advance to the latter stages in the new year.

"We had the game always under control," said Mourinho. "We had chances, the corners, the dominancy, and played very well. In the first half we were quite strong. We still played a few long balls when we don't need to. We don't have enough patience to pass the ball. Now we forget about the Champions League until 2014."

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