Out of Europe and without a trophy, Carlo Ancelotti’s first season at Napoli has fallen short of expectations.
Alexandre Lacazette’s superb curling 36th-minute free-kick from 25 metres out crushed the dream, throwing the Stadio San Paolo into despair.
Napoli never gave the impression of a fightback with Unai Emery’s Arsenal easing through 1-0 on the night, 3-0 on aggregate, to set up a clash with his former club Valencia for a place in the Europa League final on May 29.
Jeers and whistles rained down on the club’s film producer owner Aurelio De Laurentiis in the stands and captain Lorenzo Insigne, who was substituted in the second half, as the 40,000 home fans started to leave the stadium before the final whistle.
Arsenal, meanwhile, celebrated with their travelling contingent of 1,100.
The defeat was a blow for the reputation of three-time Champions League winner Ancelotti who took over last summer from Maurizio Sarri, who had led the team to second in Serie A.
The 59-year-old had promised to turn the clock back to the golden days when Argentine great Diego Maradona inspired the southerners to their two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990, and the UEFA Cup in 1989.
As Napoli crashed out of Europe on Tuesday night Sarri’s new team Chelsea advanced to the semi-final with a 5-3 aggregate win over Czech side Slavia Prague.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that the fans weren’t happy, but the season’s not finished yet,” said Ancelotti. “I think the key to qualification was the first 30 minutes in the away match that’s when we played really badly. After Arsenal scored, the situation became impossible and our heads dropped.”
Napoli had dropped down to the Europa League after their Champions League exit despite some high points with a 1-0 home Liverpool and holding Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 in France.
They also crashed out of the Coppa Italia to AC Milan.
In Serie A they are in second place 17 points behind leaders Juventus — who need just one more point to win the title — with Inter Milan seven points back in third.
“There’s not going to be any drama, everyone is united to try and bring forward what we achieved this season,” said Ancelotti, who insisted he had the backing of De Laurentiis.
De Laurentiis has said he would be happy if Ancelotti stayed at the club “for life” to emulate Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign as Manchester United manager.
Ancelotti has won 20 trophies during his coaching career with clubs including Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
His last title was the 2017 Bundesliga trophy.
He promised not “a revolution” in Naples but to add the finishing touches to give the team the final push, after Sarri led Napoli to a record points haul of 91 last season.
But Ancelotti has not achieved more than Sarri.
Napoli have 67 points with six games to play and next host Atalanta, a team also in the running for Champions League football next season.
“The future is already a work in progress, we want to secure the second spot as soon as possible,” said Ancelotti. “All we can do now is look forward, try to secure second place and try to be better next season.”
Napoli’s exit means there are no Italian clubs left in the Champions League or Europa League.
“I think above all the difference is in the ability to buy top players, invest and create a strong team,” said Ancelotti. “We’re competing against teams that have revenues three and four times more than us. Juventus are the only side in Italy who create revenue on the same level as Europe’s biggest clubs, so it is a surprise not to see them in the semi-finals. I think they’ll be there next season.”
He added: “Our objective is to grow slowly, improve and invest in young players who can mature with us. I’ve found a good squad, we were able to play some good football at times, the club supports me, so working together we’ll try to build something stronger next season.”