Squeeky Bottom Time In Rome?

A narrow 1-0 win last night sees us into the second leg of the Champions League round of sixteen tie in the Stadio Olimpico a fortnight today with the slenderest of leads. Roma were poor. In over 41 years of watching Arsenal play Italian teams in Europe I can’t ever remember a team from that country give the ball away that cheaply. Normally Italian sides are masters at maintaining possession. Give it away and you normally don’t see it back for ten minutes.
Our performance was a massive improvement from the Sunderland game, both on and off the park. Emmanuel Eboué deserved the ovation he got when he was substituted. The only dark spot was a miss in the second half that should have been a goal. The exception on the park was Nicklas Bendtner who had another poor game. High on effort was about the best that could be said of him. Abou Diaby also had an excellent match until injured. If only the bloke could string together a run of games he could be a real influence for us.
Alex Song worked hard when he came on but the fella can’t seem to pass wind at the moment, never mind the football. At the back Big Bad Bill Gallas was a rock. Further forward Samir Nasri and Rockin’ Robin Van Persie were both excellent. Gael Clichy was also much improved from his recent indifferent form. Another assured performance from Manual Almunia in goal too. With the missed chances last night though I think we’ll have to score at least once in the Eternal City to go through to the quarter-finals. Any win, draw or one goal loss will see us through. A one-nil loss in ninety minutes would bring extra time and possibly penalties. I can’t imagine that Roma will play as badly as they did last night. If we can pull off the sort of performance we did at the San Siro against Milan last season we’d be rock ‘n’ rolling. We’ll see.
Off the park, the Grove rocked at times. Roma’s travelling was loud and proud. So was the Gooner Nation. I know we pay a LOT for our tickets and the players are handsomely rewarded but the crowd can lift the team as well as the other way round. Both us in the stand and the players on the park are taking too many games for granted at the moment.
One final comment on last night. What on earth happened after the half time break? Only nine players were on the park for us when the referee insisted that we start the second half. Both William Gallas and Kolo Toure came rushing down the tunnel after play had started. The referee then promptly booked Toure for entering the field of play without permission. In fact he took about three steps onto the field then immediately retreated. Whilst the referee was quite right within the letter of the law, it was typical of the performance of too many referees who know the laws of the game inside but have no feel for the flow and spirit of the game. Technically correct but petty and harsh. Toure realised his mistake very quickly and immediately retreated over the touchline without participating in play. This didn’t save him from a yellow card.
The question that does need answering is how was this allowed to happen? We need to tighten up on this and make sure that all eleven players are assembled and ready before leaving the dressing room. We’re normally very good at this sort of detail. During half time in the 2006 Champions League Final at the Stade de France Gary Lewin spent most of half time stationed by the pitch. Rain had been forecast at some stage during the match. Sure enough, it started belting down during half time. Lewin immediately radioed the news back to our dressing room which allowed the players to change to longer wet weather studs. Several Barca players had to change their boots during breaks in play early in the second half. Such minor details can make all the difference. We’d have looked bloody stupid if we’d have conceded a goal with only nine men on the pitch. We need to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The Champions League needs to put out of our minds now. We need total focus on the next game. Coming up on Saturday is another vital home League match to Fulham. We so, so need three points in this match with Chelsea gaining ground ahead of us by two points last weekend and, yet again, us failing to gain ground on Villa who also drew. If we play with the same level of urgency as we did last night we should have enough quality to beat the Cottagers.
One small piece of minor relief off the park is the board’s announcement of a price freeze next season. Not to be churlish but it’s the minimum they could have done. I’ve said before on this blog I’d liked the club to have cut prices for the Burnley home Cup tie. They haven’t, but at least they’ve given hard-pressed season ticket holders the possibility of opting out of this game. I’ll be there. I love the FA Cup, but over £70 which my seat works out to is a LOT of money for me at the moment. Like most people I have no idea how much longer I’m going to be in a job with the recession.
All that’s in the future time to turn our attention to Saturday and the League now.
Keep the faith!

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