Mar 122009

Roma 1 (Juan 9) Arsenal 0
(aet, 1-1 agg, Arsenal win 7-6 on penalties)

There will be many that bemoan this performance, who will choose to examine the lack of penetration and pace, point to the lack of clear cut chances created and criticise all the passes that went astray. To an extent, they have a point, but only to a point.

Wenger has always moulded his sides to play free flowing football, and while pleasing to the eye, in recent years he has been oft criticised for a lack of a backup plan. Reputation insists that our silky football is paired with a soft underbelly, swift attacks with leaky defences, and spectacular goals with defensive frailty. The question I would ask is this – given the recent alteration to a more steely approach, why are those who have panned the man for only having one way of playing, now criticising him for changing things?

It is true that over the last decade and a bit we have played sublime football. It is also true that until about five years ago, we were almost as bad as Celtic away from home in Europe. Great nights at Highbury were countered by insipid away displays – I can remember countless matches on the road in the early years of the Champions League when we were easily swept aside. That has been easily forgotten as the Premiership starts to dominate the continental stage.

So although we were far from our attacking best tonight, I find myself incredibly encouraged by the mental strength shown by so many of the players. Roma defended like a true Italian side – once they had taken the lead after Gallas and Toure left a cross to each other and allowed Juan to nip in behind them, they slammed the door, Motta and Riise mountains at the back.

It would have been foolish for us to be too expansive. When Gallas tried, shortly before half time, he was exposed, Clichy was turned, and we were very fortunate not to concede a penalty after he seemed to pull Motta down. So it became about effort, closing down, and trying to thread the needle, which in the end didn’t happen for either side.

Both created one glorious chance. Fortunately for us, Baptista was as clumsy as he was a couple of years ago, badly missing from six yards out and generally having the first touch of an elephant, while at the other end Toure headed over in stoppage time at the end of ninety minutes.

In extra time, no-one ever looked like winning it – both sides had promising moves but they always broke down 30-40 yards from goal, and while some of that was down to slackness (and probably tiredness, to be fair), defences don’t get enough credit for applying enough pressure to force the mistakes.

And so it went to penalties, and we got off to the worst possible start when Eduardo, who I would’ve staked a lot on, saw his spot kick saved by Doni, but Vucinic soon levelled things up by tamely rolling his attempt directly at Almunia, who had slipped into a prone position. It was comically bad.

And then the grit returned, and in fairness, it was evident from both teams. The next eleven kicks were all successful, some more emphatic than others (Walcott in particular was fortunate), before Tonetto blazed wildly over to send us through. He was the fourth Roma player to take a kick knowing a miss would be terminal, and sooner or later someone was going to crack. Credit to all our takers for holding their nerve – they’re a young bunch, and finally Wenger can justifiably talk about mental strength. To be that calm in the cauldron of Rome takes bottle.

I have to say though, if Doni had saved any of our last four penalties, I would hope they would’ve been retaken – he was leaping ridiculously far off his line a good second before the kicks were being taken. As it turned out, he didn’t, and through we went.

And at the end of the day, that is all that matters. This is cup football, and all that counts is going through. We know we can play better, we know we will play better. It is good to know we’ll get that chance.

That was tense. But wasn’t it great in the end?

  18 Responses to “Plan B in evidence as Arsenal show some real grit”

  1. good article

  2. What i have to laugh at is the number of columns i’ve already read that claim Roma should be in the last 8. They seem to forget that 2 weeks ago Arsenal dominated them like they were playing against the local under-14 team. Roma deserved the victory tonight,,but not over 2 legs. Arsenal were the ones who showed any class in this tie, and that was in the first leg at emirates.

  3. Best article

  4. It’s no use focussing on mental strength. The defence is not up to cl std and in the qf could be exposed with lack of height . Yes we have Djouri as backup but he hasn’t much playing time.
    We seldom score goals from corners and free kicks. How I wish we have a Vidic clone . No disrespect to fellow gunners.

  5. It was a weak goal, mate.

  6. 120 minutes of agony, followed by a lucky, lucky ending.

  7. Plan A – emphasize attack and concede as many as we score.

    Plan B – emphasize defense with deep lying midfield and we can’t score.

    Great plans. We looked and played like shyte.

    Plan C – oh, no you didn’t, girlfriend.

  8. Great! It is much better to be positive rather than ultra negative by Myles Palmer in his comments on the match. Watched it ‘live’ (3.45am to 6.30am local time) and was just happy that our team have gone through!

  9. “It is difficult to beat the team organising the final” – Wenger.

  10. Myles Palmer is in his own world whenever he write of Arsenal FC. Perhaps because he is very close to parts of the team, he is negative because he expects too much of them.

    I am very happy that the team has gone through to the next round. And This article puts a nice spin on the win by penalties.

    Sometimes it’s good to look at things that way, instead of looking at it in dread and disappointment.

    Although somethings you just can’t put any spin on (e.g. Eboue, Adebayor)

  11. james, don’t blame eboue too much sometimes. think also of how the coach may instruct his players.

  12. denilson play like shit last nite.he did not help diaby at all.

  13. Myles Palmer was ridiculously negative in his article, but he is increasingly a glass almost entirely empty writer.

    It is no good bemoaning how other sides manage to play way below their best and still go through, and then not appreciate when we do the same.

    The top sides play their game first, and if, for some reason, it is all going to pot, they go for the gritty approach and get through that way. That’s what we did last night and it’s about time we appreciated it instead of lampooning the side as soon as we don’t play to our best.

  14. Myles Palmer is a complete and utter tosser. A chelsea fan, who has no longer has any access to any of the Arsenal hierarchy. He continues to write negative sniping articles that are short on substance and fuels his own ego more than anything. His analysis is fundamentally flawed and he never comments on the big gulf in resources between us, Chelsea and Manchester United.

  15. No way, Myles just has intellect and wants to see team doing well, we have been slipping for a while now. As regards to our finances, myles has taken the time to get informed while many of you have obviously not. C’mon people, you honestly believe that was a quality match? It was dreadful.

  16. Completely agree with all the above comments regarding Myles Palmer. This is the first time I have ever written to any blog but after reading Palmers latest drivel I just had to write.

    Strange for someone that has made a lot of money out of AFC (book about Arsene Wenger and numerous radio interviews on AFC) he continues to chastise AFC. ANR is quite simply not worth the effort.

  17. According to some fans here, Myles and others should just applaud the fact that we can be afc fans. It’s not negative, it’s just honesty, or have you been lied to all your life you don’t know the difference anymore?

  18. Crap….you don’t have to be an AFC fan – you choose to be one. I detest the increasingly negative tone of his comments – and yes I know that my team played abysmally last night but at least they are through to the next round. That, dear friend, is all that I care about.

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