Arsenal 1-0 Roma: Van Persie Gives Gunners a Slim Lead, Giallorossi Quite Fortunate in the End (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, First Leg)

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Arsenal vs. Roma

It may not have been a 7-1 thumping like at the Old Trafford and it may still keep their chances alive for the second leg, but Tuesday’s Arsenal vs. Roma confirmed one thing for Luciano Spalletti: winning in England is still taboo.

In truth, Giallorossi supporters can find themselves lucky their team leaves the Emirates with only a 1-goal deficit: based on the 90 minutes of action yesterday, the bill to pay could have been far more expensive (the misses of Bendtner and Eboué come to mind). But all excuses for their poor performance aside (the important absences of Juan and Vucinic, coupled with the OMG moments of Simone Loria), the Roma manager will have to do a hell of a lot better at the Olimpico if he hopes continuing his team’s European adventure.

Arsenal's Robin van Persie celebrates after scoring with a penalty shot against AS Roma during their Champions League soccer match at the Emirates stadium in London February 24, 2009. (REUTERS)

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Round of 16, First Leg - Arsenal 1-0 Roma

Tactically, Spalletti selected Simone Perrotta and Julio Baptista to support lone striker Francesco Totti, with Taddei slightly behind on the right wing. On the other end, Wenger surprised everyone with a 4-2-3-1 line-up: Bendtner on the left in line with Eboué & Nasri, the trio supporting central striker Robin Van Persie. The purpose of this strategy was to concentrate all the offensive efforts on Loria (evidently someone at Arsenal is doing his scouting homework), who (at least initially) held the fort together without too much concern for style.

In the first quarter, the Gunners focused most of their attacks on the right side (where Eboué’s speed was making Riise’s head spin) resulting in all-territorial Arsenal domination. Roma couldn’t even come up for air; De Rossi and Doni were busy trying to anticipate Van Persie’s moves and Nasri’s header attempts.

Arsenal's captain Robin van Persie, left, is tackled by Roma's Phiippe Mexes during their Champions League round of 16 first leg match at the Emirates Stadium in London, Tuesday Feb. 24, 2009. Van Persie was awarded a penalty and he scored. (AP Photo)

Eventually, we finally got to see some Giallorossi action. Marco Motta (very good on his Champions League debut) missed a goal with a fantastic howitzer headed for the top-corner (tipped by Almunia) and one minute later, Loria wasted a good run forward on set-pieces by connecting with the ball with a disastrous display of acrobatics. Two more chances by Baptista (wide) and Totti (over the bar) made Roma fans resume their chants, but it was to be a short-lived melody. The ice-cold shower came about ten minutes before the half-time: Riise slipped, play continued, Van Persie entered the area and was challenged from behind by Mexès. Penalty. The Dutchman spot-kicked the ball into the net, but not before Loria (his only contribution of the night) tried to mind-fu** with his placing the ball exactly on the spot. Regardless, 1-0 Arsenal.

Ensued 5 minutes of black-out, on which the Giallorossi could have taken another two goals. After finally getting a hold of themselves, fate delivered the second knock-out blow: Daniele De Rossi, who was already sitting on a yellow, picked an avoidable caution in midfield and will have to sit the second leg out suspended. Big kick in the teeth.

Disoriented by Nasri’s technical display and swept away by Diaby’s power in midfield, the Giallorossi tried to come back in the second half with a different approach. There was nothing they could do however: Arsenal dominated the proceedings from beginning to end, Bendtner even missing a sitter from point-blank range and Doni putting springs on his legs to deny a goal to Diaby. The Romans were losing one ball after another and Spalletti decided to throw in David Pizarro to replace Brighi, in the hope of putting some order on the pitch. It was a good decision because the Chilean midfielder’s ball control prevented the Gunners from starting quick breakaways.

AS Roma's goalkeeper Doni (C) holds on to the ball during their Champions League soccer match against Arsenal at the Emirates stadium in London February 24, 2009.  (REUTERS)

It was clear that Totti was having an off-day, despite his many tries to run, pressure and shoot. It was too bad that Baptista couldn’t do more to help. On the other end, a Loria back-pass gifted the ball to Eboué who delayed his shot for too long, eventually sending the ball on the outside of the mesh. Spalletti decided it was time to get rid of the weakest link (in came Diamoutene), while Riise tried to shake up the Giallorossi and had his only good move of the match, a powerful left-kick just narrowly wide of Almunia’s post.

In the final minutes in came Vucinic for Baptista, to try the move that could change the outcome of the match. To no avail: Arsenal retained their well-deserved lead to the final whistle, and we will now have to hope the second leg and the Stadio Olimpico’s greener pastures will bring better luck to the Giallorossi.

Roma's John Arne Riise, reacts during an Champions League round of 16 first leg match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in London, Tuesday Feb. 24, 2009.  (AP Photo)


 Arsenal F.C.
[Match Highlights]
A.S. Roma
GOALSCORERS: 37’ pen. Van Persie (A).
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Almunia – Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy – Diaby (63’ A.Song), Denilson – Eboué (82’ Ramsey), Nasri, Bendtner (67’ Vela) – Van Persie. (bench: Fabianski, Djourou, Gibbs, Merida). Coach: Wenger.
ROMA(4-3-2-1): Doni – Motta, Mexes, Loria (71’ Diamoutene), Riise – Taddei, De Rossi, Brighi (57’ D.Pizarro) – Perrotta, J.Baptista (82’ Vucinic) – Totti. (bench: Artur, Tonetto, Filipe, Montella). Coach: Spalletti.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Posted in English Premiership, Roma, UEFA Champions League |

Related Posts:

  • Roma 1-0 Arsenal: Hero-Mode Isn’t Enough, Giallorossi Beaten on Penalties (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg)
  • Make or Break Time for Serie A Teams (UEFA Champions League R16 Return Legs Preview)
  • Arsenal-Roma & Inter-Manchester: The UCL Battle Begins Tuesday
  • Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal: Wonder Stuff at Anfield Road, Rafa’s Reds Reach the Semi-Finals (Champions League Quarter-Finals, Leg 2)
  • UEFA Champions League – Possible Team Pairings in Friday’s Playoffs Draw (2007-08)
  • Comments are closed.