Arsenal play Roma tomorrow night for a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Our team takes a 1-0 first-leg lead with them to Rome, safe in the knowledge that a clean sheet will see them through while a goal would leave their Italian opponents needing to score three. In this pre-preview of Arsenal’s game against Roma I thought I’d take a look at the five players who I believe hold the key to our chances of progress. Enjoy!
Robin van Persie
The Dutchman was rested on the weekend against Burnley, Arsene Wenger giving him just enough time off the bench to ensure he remains sharp and focused ahead of the Roma game. Although his form has waned just a little in recent outings, van Persie is undoubtedly our best chance of scoring an away goal either from open play or from a set piece as he showed in the first leg. The hapless Philippe Mexes struggled to pin him down in the home tie and if we do happen to score in Rome it’s more than likely we’ll have the Dutchman to thank for it.
With Nicklas Bendtner as well as the aforementioned van Persie rested against Burnley and Eduardo playing a full hour, it’s unlikely that the Crozilian will start on Wednesday night. However, his touch and guile off the bench could mean he could be the game-breaker if scores remain at 0-0 or a game-turner if we fall a goal or even two behind. Eduardo has scored three goals in his two FA Cup appearances and a first in the Champions League is very possible regardless of how long he is on the pitch.
Diaby is a player who divides opinion amongst supporters. There is no doubt he remains an unpolished gem – as likely to drive forward and beat two players as he is to dwell on the ball too long or misplace a simple pass – but the value I see in Diaby’s presence is not to be underestimated. One advantage is his breaking up of the overly-defensive Song-Denilson partnership in the middle of the park, providing a creative spark and some much-needed physicality.
Another is the obvious threat he provides on set pieces. While Diaby may not have scored this season with a header he’s come mighty close on several occasions, one of which came against Roma in the first leg. In a competition with games that are increasingly decided by set-pieces Diaby’s presence will certainly cause it’s fair amount of troubles for our Italian opponents.
Since being stripped of the captaincy Gallas has produced the best form of his Arsenal career. The Frenchman’s partnership with the man likely to lead the side out in Rome, Kolo Toure, has seen a previously leaky defence concede just one goals in the past eight games. Given that Arsenal can progress through to the quarter-finals without scoring if we keep Roma goalless, Gallas will be a vitally important player in determining the outcome of the tie.
The Spaniard will have a very clear motivation for not conceding a goal on Wednesday night because if he succeeds, Arsenal will progress through to the next round. Almunia has, like Diaby, always been a player who divides opinion amongst the Arsenal supporters but there can be very few people who can knock his performances in the last two months.
The typical role of a top-class goalkeeper at a big club is to command his area and make one or two key saves per game to take the pressure of the rest of the team, something that the Spaniard has done consistently over the past two months. If Almunia can do his job again in Rome it will go a long way to ensuring Arsenal come away from the tie victorious.
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I should add here that at the time of writing there has been no word on any fresh injuries or hints from the manager about who or who won’t be starting on Wednesday night. Toure will travel to Italy but faces a late fitness test while Eduardo and Theo Walcott are also likely to join the squad.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game. I’ll be back tomorrow with a full preview and the latest news from the manager. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves.
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