Writer: Brice Coffer
Date:Tuesday March 10 2009
On Wednesday night Arsenal turn their attentions from qualifying for Europe to the actual competition itself. The fiery cauldron of the Stadio Olympico awaits the Gunners for the second leg of this round of 16 match up between Arsenal and AS Roma.
Arsene Wenger's squad holds a 1-0 advantage going into Italy, though it should have definitely been much more than that. Arsenal dominated Roma in every facet of the game. The pace, power, and technical superiority of Arsenal was too much for the out of shape Roma to handle. That being said, we did not finish the tie off. Our impotence in front of goal was laughable. Not even the goal scorer, van Persie, can claim innocence. I don't expect that to come back to bite us in the arse though.
Wenger had this to say pre-match. "We need to go to Roma and play our own game.
"It`s very important for us to focus on scoring and going forward.'
"They are a very good team offensively so if we allow them to spend 90 per cent of the time doing what they like to do, we will expose ourselves.'
"Let`s go there and focus on dictating the game. I think it`s part of the personality of the team — so let`s show exactly that.'
"We are not far from the latter stages of the competition and that is where the winning attitude becomes tested.'
"The pressure becomes bigger and bigger the more you progress.'
"It is down to how we can respond to that pressure — and of course I have the confidence in the team to do very well."
English winger, Theo Walcott, is ready to make his mark on the first team again. Walcott said: "The injury feels fine but I still haven`t experienced a real whack yet. As weird as it might sound, it would definitely be really good for me if the Roma players give me a clattering.
"In Arsenal training, you obviously don`t want to injure your own team-mates, so you tend to be a bit softer in the tackle. I`ve tried to encourage people to test it out in training but it`s not the same as in match situations.'
"Our new doctor, Gary O`Driscoll, comes from a rugby background. He has regularly dealt with dislocated shoulders and says players tend to come back without suffering any reaction.'
"It should be a good battle against Riise. He was one of the players telling me to stop running when I set up the goal for Emmanuel Adebayor at Anfield last year.'
"But we still ended up losing that tie so, hopefully, I can do better against him this time."
Philippe Mexes, who loooked like a fish out of water in the first leg, said this leading up to the second tie. 'In the first leg we didn't play well,' he admitted. 'I don't think we can do much worse, so this is a positive thing, we can only improve. In the end it went well because it could have been worse than 1-0.'
'I think it will be important not to rush things and avoid exposing ourselves to their counterattacks. If we play the way we know how, we will certainly score. If we are concentrated and well-organised, we have a chance of going through.'
He said of Arsenal: 'They are very calm, they're young and they give everything during each match. They have everything to lose but they will go for it until the end because they are very young and dangerous.'
'Of the English teams, Arsenal are one of those who play the best football. But Roma are also strong and we must be aware we are stronger than them and that at our best we have every chance of going through.'
Again, Roma have many injuries to worry about. They will be without right back Cicinho for the rest of the season because he needs to undergo knee surgery. Marco Motta, who was impressive in the first game, will once again step in at right back. He almost scored a stunner in the first half; if it wasn't for a world class save for Almunia, then we would of gone 1-0 down. Panucci and English born Perotta will also miss the match. Danielle de Rossi is suspended for the match after receiving a yellow card for a horror tackle on Samir Nasri. Centreback Juan and striker Mirko Vučinić will return to the Italian side after missing the game in London. While Roma captain, Totti, will train with the team tomorrow despite the pain.
Similar to Eduardo, Vucinic always seems to be in a position to score. Personally I rate him more than the highly fashionable Totti. Mirko is intelligent and his movement off the ball will be a danger for Gallas and Djourou.
As the weeks go on, the injury reports get more and more uplifting. Eduardo and Walcott returned to the side against Burnley, leaving only Cesc, Adebayor, and Rosicky left on the treatment table. Kolo Toure has been declared fit and will regain his spot in the first eleven.
For the first time in a long while, Arsene has a difficult choice on who to start in the attack for this game. van Persie will surely start because of his form this season merits a spot in every team sheet, even though he has dried up as of late. Will Wenger start with the Dutchman up top by himself, or will he put Bendtner or Eduardo along side of him? I have no idea. We will have to see come 7 o'clock on Wednesday.
Possible Lineup: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy, Eboue, Song, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, van Persie
He was the player to watch in the first leg, and for the same reasons the quiet Brazilian will be the central figure in this one. He dominated de Rossi and the rest of the Roma midfield, but he did not receive the same praise as Flamoney did against Milan. He will need to marshal the Arsenal defense once again tomorrow night. I have been a proponent of buying a central midfielder in the past, but Denilson is very close to convincing me that he is the real deal.
Arsenal is on a 17 match unbeaten run in all competition.
van Persie is one yellow card away from being suspended for the next round if we make it.
Roma have lost out to an English club in the knockout rounds for the past three seasons.
Roma have let in at least one goal in their last 14 matches against English opposition.
Roma captain, Franceso Totti, has never scored against an English team.
In the last four visits to Italy, Arsenal have flown back with three wins and a draw.
Spaniard, Manuel Mejuto González, will be the head official for this match. Arsenal fans might remember him as the ref who wrongly disallowed a late equalizer by Thierry Henry against CSKA Moscow for a non-existent handball. He was also in charge of the 2005 Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan.
This game could of been meaningless, but it wouldn't be Arsenal if we didn't have to do it the hard way. I think we will get one goal, and I can't see Roma scoring three. So I will go with a 1-1 scoreline, with Arsenal putting their name into the hat for the next round.
14/3 (Sat) - Blackburn (H) - Premier League
17/3 (Tue) - Hull City (H) - FA Cup
21/3 (Sat) - Newcastle (A) - Premier League
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Date:Tuesday March 10 2009
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