Feb 252009

Arsenal 1 (Van Persie pen 37) Roma 0
(Champions League Last 16)

Before the game, a win and a clean sheet would’ve made for the perfect combination, a stylish performance the icing on the cake. But after seeing the match unfold, it is difficult not to feel like it was a chance missed even as those events unfolded before us. The tie could have been over with chance after chance being created and spurned.

But take a step back for a minute, and realise that a 1-0 home win is a terrific result in Europe these days. Yes, we could’ve had more, but had Almunia not made an awesome stop from Motta or if a couple of dangerous situations had turned into a sting in the tail then we would’ve been staring down the barrel. The difference between 1-0 and 2-1 is immense.

Without an away goal as insurance, Roma can’t just attack, leaving themselves open to the counter attack, because one goal for us could finish the tie. Almunia’s clean sheet was the most important thing to come out of tonight, and stands us in good stead for the return leg.

I was expecting a cagey affair, with Roma tight at the back, but with the inexperienced Motta and Loria filling in for injured players, we sniffed a chance. But it turned out that the weak link was neither of the two, it was the experienced Philippe Mexes, who had an absolute stinker.

I remember when Mexes was 19-20, and being touted as the next big thing when he was playing for Auxerre. He looked to have everything – size, speed, anticipation and a good touch, but tonight he was truly awful. Constantly turned, he was often force to resort to fouls, one of which earned him an early yellow, and then eventually gave away the decisive penalty when Van Persie got beyond him yet again. The Dutchman hammered home.

If the performance of the Frenchman surprised me for one reason, that of Eboue shocked me for the complete opposite. In the first half he was on fire, charging around with speed and purpose, laying off clever passes and looking more dangerous than I can ever remember. His critics will probably ignore this and point purely at the sitter he missed in the second half (and it was a sitter), but credit where it is due – he was excellent tonight and deserved the applause he got when inevitably taken off.

The same should be said of Nasri – with Bendtner, and later Vela, deployed on the left and Eboue on the right, Nasri was given the support striker role, but roamed around with freedom and caused absolute havoc in the Roma defence. He was also one of those willing to crack one from 20 yards, and deserved a goal for his efforts. At the very least, he deserves to stay in the middle for the second leg.

At the back, Clichy was back to his energetic best, harrying the Roma players high up the pitch and forcing mistakes, while Sagna was as composed as ever on the other side. The only letdown for Sagna, again, is his crossing – if he can work on that he could be legendary. Gallas and Toure, aside from coming out late for the second half, were largely untroubled, with Gallas especially leading by example. It says a lot that Gallas hasn’t come in for criticism recently – with the media guns loaded at him, waiting for another mistake, it tells you exactly how well the man is playing. Good stuff.

The weak link today, unfortunately, was Bendtner, whose first touch was fairly poor, and whose effort early in the second half was woeful, but before too much criticism is aimed at him, consider that he was better than both of Roma’s star strikers, who are both far more experienced. Totti was again anonymous, while Baptista was the clumsy version of the Beast we all remember.

There is no doubt we could’ve battered Roma tonight, but equally in the last twenty minutes we appeared to tire and could’ve conceded. We seemed to lose a lot of momentum when Song came on for Diaby – suddenly we had less men in their box and the mentality switched to protecting what we had, which was a shame as we had them on the ropes.

But overall, it is a superb result, and we were the only team to win tonight after the other three ties were drawn. First legs are always tight, and playing at home first isn’t helpful. The best you can do is take a lead and a clean sheet out with you, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

And we’ve done it in style.

  13 Responses to “Forget the frustration – that was an excellent result”

  1. well said. clean sheets are hugely important in 2-legged ties. especially if they are played first.

    It gives us the opportunity go go to Rome and nick a goal to win the tie.

  2. Wenger is a fool, bringing in the lazy and stupid song for diaby??!

    That killed our attack and Song doesn’t deserve to play football, always lost, panicking when the ball is on his feet and can’t even tackle.

  3. good post but no mention of denilson. the lad was awesome

  4. Rash, Diaby had to come off – he was superb while on the field, but was tiring after coming back from injury.

    John – I missed Denilson, and yes he was excellent tonight.

  5. Agreed on all points, Mexes and Totti looked a shadow of what I worried they’d be like all day today. Good performances across the pitch for us tonight, worryingly it looked like Song was bought on because Diaby was injured.

  6. 65 minuites of arsenal football! agreed? then common mistake of song denilson cm partener ship (+bentner). fluid football stopped and sideways negative aresnal took over, and nearly cost us! denilson was great till song came on! eboue? eboue! well done lad!?! for once! if we play like that in the league (wanting to win) we wouldnt be where we are now! ototbotbag

  7. hopefully we’ll have Walcott or adebayor or eduardo back for the next leg, to replace bendtner.
    eboue was great and so was diaby and nasri. robin worked his socks off. gallas was superb.

  8. I’d give Bendy a bit of a break. He had a couple of poor first touches, but a couple more that only looked poor because they needed to be perfect.

    In the first half especially out on the left, not in his natural slot, he caused all sorts of problems, worked hard and defended well when he needed to.

    We lost impetus cuz Song came on for Diaby, but also because Vela came on for Bendy.

  9. Yes good thing is in a couple weeks time we’ll have Walcott, Dudu, and Ade back. An even better squad than today will play in Rome and I’m gonna take a wild guess and say the flowing football is going to remain as well. This looks like the catalyst our boys needed to continue on in the CL campaign as well as our two other fronts of opposition. (Premiership/FA Cup) From what I head Denilson, Nasri, and Eboue had cracking games…well done boys-it should be only onwards and upwards from there. On the Bendtner note, this result is good for him-the Dane was in need of some humbling and he got just that, in order to be a premier striker a STARTER, you must put your chances away. He’ll get a lesson from Eduardo next leg in how to be a striker. Well done boys, feed from this momentum 2 titles are ours for the taking.

  10. I see the “rose coloured glasses” mob are all out again! It surprises me still to read that there are so many who can be fooled so easily!!!

    What a bore……… more of the same, can’t score even against an ordinary italian side devoid of any depth of idea! As always Bendtner fails to perform, Diaby does bugger all except get the ball caught under his feet, Eboue made to look ok because they allowed him the space to run as they knew nothing to worry about could ever come from him, Denilson was his usual self nothing special very average, Song was his usual self when he came on slowing the pace of the game down to a crawl because thats the way he thinks and that killed our biggest threat to Roma – they like other italian sides don’t like the pace that english sides play at. Europe suits this Arsenal side best as they are allowed more time on the ball and are not pressurised as they are in the EPL we stand a chance if we don’t play another EPL side or Barcelona. This is still an average side – a pale imitation of the Arsenal sides of the previous ones under Wenger!!!! Try standing back and looking at the reality of this game rather than with a “pink tint”

  11. I feel Bendtner played well. Sure he missed some chances, but who didn’t during the match? His link-up play was really good, he even got back to defend on numerous occasions. How many times has Ade done that? The thing he’s lacking is composure, I reckon. He’s got great positioning compared to Ade who rarely gets into the box.

    Also, I will say Eboue played well, almost to the days of old when he used to perform week in week out. If this is what he’s like when he gets his head down and works his socks off, I say he deserves a place. Anyway, good result, hopefully we’ll finish this off.

    Furthermore, did anyone see the bizarre bit with Vucinic just before he came on? What was up with that? Hahaha.

  12. John J, I don’t know how much you want from a team lacking in confidence, coming up against an Italian defence, but a deserved win and a clean sheet should be it.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, the media darling that is United didn’t score against Italian opposition (albeit better ones), and no-one else won last night, so it seems churlish to lay into the team.

    Denilson was excellent, and as for saying that Roma didn’t like our pace – you’re right, and isn’t it nice to be playing at pace again?

    Josh, I’m having nightmares about Vucinic, and his ‘personal rearrangements’.

  13. Really enjoyed that combo move on the right flank which led to that Bendtner howler miss in 2nd half. That to me is the essence of Arsenal’s style.
    Everyone did their job, even Bendtner was involved in the penalty. And Almunia played like he’s at total peace with himself.
    I am straight but thought Vucinic looked hot.

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