It’s the second leg of Arsenal’s Champions League tie with Roma in Italy tonight – and what an interesting game it looks to be.
Arsene Wenger and our boys will take with them to Rome a 1-0 lead from the first leg at The Emirates. The general consensus from that match was that although we performed well a one-goal advantage was the bare minimum reward for such a dominant display. Even so, a clean sheet will see us through to the quarter-finals while a goal will ensure Roma have to summon three from somewhere, an extremely tough task even accounting for their home advantage.
The plan going into the contest will be to remain solid and organised at the back, ensuring we don’t concede while constantly looking to hit Roma on the break with pace and swift movement. It’s a task that we did expertly against Milan last season and although the personnel is far from the same, I do feel we have the players available to get the required result.
Team news going into the game is excellent, with Kolo Toure being passed fit to start and no fresh injuries emerging from the weekend. All of the players that were rested against Burnley – Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy, Denilson, Samir Nasri, Nicklas Bendtner and Robin van Persie – are available, meaning Wenger has a large compliment of players to choose from, something that has rarely been said this season.
You have to suspect that the manager will start with the 4-5-1 formation that worked so well against Roma in the first leg. The first-choice back five of Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas and Clichy picks itself while Denilson is set to play the holding role in front of the defence. I can’t see anyone other than van Persie playing as the lone-striker meaning that Bendtner is likely to play on the left – as he did in the first leg – leaving Nasri to float around ‘in the hole’.
That leaves two spots open; one in the central midfield alongside Denilson and the other on the right wing. In a game where we will be doing our fair share of defending and will need to be reliant on pace and athleticism to attack Roma on the break, I’m hoping that the manager starts both Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott. The former because he tends to perform well in slower-paced Champions League games is a towering threat from set pieces and the latter simply because he is the quickest player in our squad.
Just sticking with Walcott for a moment and my personal opinion is that he will have far more impact on the game if played from the start as opposed to being used off the bench. The way I see it, with Roma needing to score to stay in the tie the impetus will be on them to attack, leaving gaps at the back from the start. If the home side do get the opener I feel they’re likely to go back in their shell and sit on their lead, denying Walcott the space he needs to work in. In that situation Wenger could pull Walcott off and put on a player who has the ability to work in tight spaces, someone like Eduardo or Carlos Vela.
In contrast, if we happen to score first then the manager has the option to replace Walcott with a more defensively secure option in Emmanuel Eboue. If the scores stay level and Walcott begins to tire then Vela could come on to provide continued pace on the break. For all of these reasons I really hope the manager goes from Walcott from the start and if he does, I think it will make the task of scoring a precious away goal just that little bit easier.
Roma do of course have some great attacking players that we will need to keep an eye on. Francesco Totti and Julio Baptista both failed to fire in the first leg but the pair are sure to be a different proposition in Rome, while Mirko Vucinic – as I mentioned before the first game – is a player that I rate exceptionally highly. With Roma requiring a goal I feel they will play all three up front and it means our defence as well as Denilson and Diaby in the middle will have to work their socks off to close down the space in the middle of the park.
My final thoughts going into the game against Roma are that while we’re well placed to win it and really should do given the squad that is available, it’s going to take a tremendous team effort to get the job done. As I said before the Milan game last season, the longer the game stays goalless the more dangerous we will become and I really fancy us to nick a goal or two on the break with the pressure firmly on the home side.
I’ve put a sneaky fiver on a 3-0 win for us (at $34) and another fiver on Diaby to score the first goal (at $19). In the meantime, enjoy the game wherever in the world you may be watching and COME ON ARSENAL!!!
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