What drama at the Stadio Olimpico, Arsenal did not perform well, the attack was blunt but the team pulled through in dramatic fashion.
Arsenal fell behind after 9 minutes. Poor defending by Toure and Gallas and Bendtner failing to track back allowed Juan to give Roma the lead. They had to weather the storm in the first half but gradually started to assert themselves. Arsenal escaped a penalty claim in the first half.
The second half started with Arsenal dominating the game, Roma fell further and further behind and you got the feeling they were to settle for a draw and take the game to penalties. Playing with one up front meant it was always going to be hard to score and Arsenal created few clear cut chances. Van Persie snatched at several opportunities, but the Dutchman is suffering with a lack of faith and composure in front of goal at the moment. Arsenal had a great chance to score, Bendtner played the ball to Eboue, a good return ball would’ve put the Dane through, but the pass took him away from the goal.
Former player Baptista had a glorious chance to score before the end of the second half but as we all know Baptista is not the most lethal of strikers and failed to trouble Almunia. Toure had Arsenal’s best chance to score right at the end of the game, but put the ball over the bar.
Roma were hanging for penalties as Arsenal made all the running but were unable to break the deadlock on extra-time. Now we hade the dreaded penalty shoot out.
First was Eduardo, but his penalty was save. Roma scored next as did van Persie, next it was Vuconic who had tormented Sagna all game, what followed was a pathetically lame penalty that Almunia saved. Arsenal’s remaining penalty takers Walcott, Nasri and Denilson all scored with ease. We moved into sudden death, Sagna and Toure converted as did Diaby, next it was the turn of Tonetto, his penalty would have done the Italy rugby team proud as it sailed high over the bar.
It was not vintage Arsenal; it was a resolute defence and a misfiring attack. The formation 4-5-1 needs the right personnel to work. Bendtner on the wing is a non-starter, though he showed some good ball control, he is not fast enough or direct enough to make it work, van Persie is out of sorts at the moment, maybe it is his new contract, but whatever it is he needs to sort it out.
The one major plus from last night was Abou Diaby. He played the game like a master, holding off challenges, making runs, and attacking. This is the Diaby we need to see every week.
Arsenal are through to the last 8, a tough challenge awaits us, but we will have both Fabregas and Adebayor available for the quarter final, and there is a chance we might also see Rosicky. A 4-5-1, with a midfield of Nasri-Fabregas-Diaby-Rosicky and either Walcott or van Persie playing behind Adebayor will be a very attack minded and frightening midfield.
Arsenal venture into the Stadio Olimpico tonight knowing that defeat and elimination will have many repercussions for the club.
The stories of not being good enough will emerge once more, the criticism of Wenger, his failure in Europe will start doing the rounds, and there will be comparisons as to Wenger’s record in the Champions League and Benitez’s record. To be frank that is a hollow argument, when you see that Benitez’s teams in the Premier League have been absolute garbage and have never come close to challenging for the title, then add to that the money he has spent and you realise that he is not as good as people like to make him out.
We take a one nil lead which is a dangerous position, do you stick or twist? Well Wenger knows only one way of playing football and that is attack. It will not be all out attack, but a cautious attack.
Wenger used a 4-5-1 tactic when we reached Champions League Final; he used the same formation in the first leg. My only criticism with this formation is the use of Bendtner on the left wing. If Bendtner is to be used against Roma, his task needs to be the main striker, the man to hold the ball and bring others into play. Nasri is more effective playing behind the striker. This position gives him more room to play football and the enables him to change the direction of the game.
Eboue will have a crucial role to play, he will be required to play a more defensive role tonight, he will be required to provide Sagna with adequate cover and also to tuck infield and assist Denilson and Song.
Unlike last year when we faced an ageing AC Milan who were playing for penalties, tonight Roma will attack us, this will put our defence in the spotlight. The defence has stiffened up in recent weeks and we will need to see another resolute performance from all the players. Gallas has shown us in recent weeks what a steady defender he is and he has helped Toure recover his form. Clichy needs to clear his head and remain focused for the whole game, too often, he has had one or two lapses in concentration we have cost us goals, tonight he cannot afford to do this, or we will have another Birmingham moment with Gallas.
The key to tonight is to play a tight game, not to try to defend for 90 minutes, because we cannot do that. If we can keep the score at 0-0 for the first 30 minutes, then Roma will start to get anxious and the spaces will open-up, when we get a chance, we need to score. Van Persie must find his scoring boots, as he has been culpable of some glaring misses recently.
Progress tonight will be a great boost for the team and players and set them up for a very interesting end of season, defeat and we will enter a period of navel gazing and rumours of players leaving as “Arsenal cannot match my ambitions.”
The match is live tonight on Sky Sports Xtra @ 7.45pm.
Last night saw Arsenal back to their best, all was missing were the goals. Arsenal can only play football one-way ands that was attack, attack, attack. From kick-off, Arsenal poured forward looking for the break through.
Wenger made a subtle change ten minutes into the game, he moved Nasri to play behind van Persie and Bendtner was moved out to play on the left wing. This gave Nasri licence to roam, create, and drive at the heart of the Roma defence. Unfortunately, moving Bendtner to the wing meant that we were playing with ten men. He was completely ineffectual. He offered little going forward and he did not help Clichy who was being overrun at the back.
Bendtner had Arsenal’s best chance when van Persie cut the ball back from the bye-line, all he had to do was hit it first time, but his touch was terrible and the chance had gone. Just before half time he made amends for his early miss by putting van Persie through, Mexes had other ideas and tripped him up. The referee was not fooled and pointed to the spot. Van Persie got up, and despite some shenanigans from Roma, he buried the penalty to give Arsenal the lead.
The second started like a farce. Nine Arsenal players took the field and the referee insisted we kick-off. Where were Gallas and Toure, had they had an argument? Had Toure stormed off at half time like the one Campbell did a few years ago? Well there was nothing sinister, Gallas was still receiving treatment, and Toure insists on coming out last. We started the half with nine men and it was a couple of minutes before the duo emerged, with Toure running straight onto the pitch and getting booked for entering the field of play without the referee’s permission.
The second half saw Arsenal get a strangle hold on the game; Roma could not put any passes together, whilst Diaby was winning everything in midfield. Denilson was growing in confidence playing alongside the big Frenchman. A second goal was surely on its way. What we had not taken into consideration was that the best chances would fall to Bendtner and Eboue.
Just as happened on Saturday, the ball was played across the area, it fell to Bendtner, who with the goal at his mercy, managed to scoop his shot over the crossbar. Minutes later, Eboue found himself with the goalkeeper to beat, instead of hitting the ball first time, he tried to manoeuvre a better angle, by which time the defenders had tracked back, and Eboue proceeded to hit the ball wide.
Roma, who looked very shaky at the back and lacked creativity going forward, never troubled Arsenal. Gallas and Toure never troubled at the back, whilst Diaby looked the player we all know he could become, if only he can stay free of injuries.
The return leg will be an interesting affair. Roma have to attack and score, whilst Wenger will play 4-5-1, if Adebayor is back from injury he will play up front on his own whilst van Persie will play on the left. What we desperately need is for Diaby to be available.