Many Arsenal fans believe that the Champions League is Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season, as long as the other English sides are knocked out. This is not because of our blistering, attacking football, but because European football is often based around the slow, passing game we seem to be executing at the present moment. However, if we are to win the Champions league I personally believe its going to take a change in fortunes, a bit of luck and relevant results going our way.
Although Roma have suffered at the hands of English clubs in previous knockout rounds, this tie will not be easy at all. After three consecutive 0-0 draws, Roma will come to the Emirates full of confidence after a small run of excellent form themselves; 4 wins and 1 draw in their last 5 matches. Italian teams are famous for parking the bus, and if we found Sunderland hard to break down, Roma will be just as tough. The onus is on us, as the home team, to attack and Roma will be happy to soak up the pressure and attack with pace on the break.
Last season we played Milan at home first in a similar situation. We did most of the attacking while the Milan players were prepared to scrap for anything on the counter. That night we couldn’t put it in the back of the net despite dominance; that was when we were in great form. We are currently playing well at times but lack any pace or cutting edge. Unfortunately these are the two things that will be needed to kill off Roma. If we can get the Roma defenders turning towards their own goal, we have a chance. The problem is our play has become too predictable with everything played side to side in front of the opposition.
Against Sunderland, Alan Hansen, however annoying and bias he can be, picked up on a crucial point. Towards the end, we strung forward passes together with purpose and had Sunderland struggling to cope. We made 4 chances late on just due to added pace to the game and a bit more determination. If we can do this from the off against Roma, we could be in business. They will hate a team coming at them with pace, Milan couldn’t cope and Roma will be no different. The question is, can the players get up for it? They seem to me, to be happy to put energy in for the first part of the game and then if we don’t score, take the foot off the gas. The game is 90 minutes and it doesn’t matter when you score or push for a goal; too many times the players seem lethargic in the middle third of the game. If we go at teams from the off they will crack, that is why Manchester United have done so well recently.
Roma have a threat in their full backs. They provide the width for the side as Roma set up with a narrow midfield. Wenger needs to get these guys with their backs to the wall. Therefore, unless Eboue is going to go at his man and keep sane for more than half an hour, I would play Vela against Cicinho to get the defensively suspect Brazilian penned back. That could give Nasri a free role from the right, something that worked so well against Cardiff. That night, we had pace and drive from the wide men and this is needed.
Wenger has hinted at the midfield battle being crucial and Song and Denilson will be overworked. Against Sunderland they both did a defensive job, something that we didn’t really need. We needed one of them to take control and create something. This game may entail them both to do a job sitting back. Baptista, Perrotta and Brighi/Aquilani will provide a numerical advantage for the Italians and if Denilson commits forward Song will have too many men to deal with. If Denilson can find time on the ball he must use it well. Too many times he’s won the ball very well but given it away. I’d like to see a bit more purpose from him rather than a 5 yard pass to his left or right. He can be crucial tonight.
Gallas and Toure have worked well together in the immediate past. They seem to have decided to put whatever problems they have behind them and just get on with it. Credit goes to Wenger here in terms of man management as Gallas has been a rock and Kolo is re-finding his best form. These two must stay awake for the whole 90 mins, even if we hold a lead. An away goal is something we simply cannot concede and considering Clichy and Sagna will have orders to get forward, we will rely on the two centre backs to have big games.
One thing I would like to see us try a bit more, and earlier on in games, is a big lump up to Bendtner. He produced two chances late on after big hoofs up to him. Sometimes this simple high ball can open up doors. Roma will not like an aerial bombardment as Mexes and Juan are not the biggest. This would allow Van Persie to play off the knock downs. It just mixes things up a little and would get Roma thinking more about how to play us. Bendtner has the height advantage and I hate to say it, but a traditional English style could work at times!
In terms of Roma’s threat, it comes from Vucinic and Baptista mainly in terms of goals. With Totti out The Beast will look to support the striker with an eye for goal in the Champions League. Vucinic is busy and hard working and Baptista has been in irresistible form this season. De Rossi will protect the back four with strength, determination and vigour. He is an angry character and we will need to match his physical strengths. Doni is a suspect keeper and needs to be tested early and especially aerially from corners.
This is going to be a tough night where patience is key. The fans must get behind the team rather than boo a misplaced pass. The Italians are the best at frustrating teams and we must be patient. We turned over Milan last year in a tough tie; let’s hope we can do the same this time around.