When Arsenal drew Roma last week in the Champions League, the general consensus amongst the British media was that the Gunners would be favourites, or at least that things could have been worse. After all, the in-form and classy Barcelona were still in the hat with only a few teams left to draw.
Arsenal fans will also remember the sumptuous Thierry Henry hat-trick at the Stadio Olimpico against Fabio Capello’s Roma team back in 2002. However, a week on and Arsenal not only find themselves outside of the Champions League places, three points behind Aston Villa, but without their talismanic captain, Cesc Fabregas, who will be injured for the next four months.
Roma are not without their own problems, languishing down in sixteenth position in Serie A and Totti is injured again, out for two months. The Giallorossi should have him back in action in time for the tie with Arsenal but their dependency on a talented, yet injury-prone player continues to raise questions about Roma’s long-term plans.
Despite their differing league positions, Arsenal and Roma share a similar tendency to be inconsistent. Arsenal have notched up impressive wins against Manchester United, Chelsea and Fenerbahce away in the Champions League; yet followed them up with defeats at home to Aston Villa and Hull. Meanwhile, Roma managed to destroy Chelsea 3-0 but were completely outclassed 0-4 at home to Inter Milan back in October.
Arsene Wenger and Luciano Spaletti have both built teams that play quick and fluid football with the movement of their midfield key to their attacking style. Furthermore, both managers are committed to developing young talent and allowing them to express themselves in the way only a football purist would allow. Considering injuries to key personnel, Wenger and Spalletti will have to pin their hopes on other players at their disposal. So it is on these players that I will focus the rest of this preview.
While Totti has spent time on the surgery table, Roma’s talented Montenegrin, Mirko Vucinic, has supplied both the creativity and goals. Arsenal fans will be hoping that he isn’t on his game, otherwise they might get to see more of Vucinic then they would have hoped for.
The young Frenchman, Jeremy Menez, has shown glimpses of his acclaimed potential since arriving in the summer, making the loss of Mancini to Mourinho’s Inter more bearable. However, it is a certain Brazilian built like a brick house who could prove their undoing.
Yes, it is Julio Baptista, or “The Beast” as he is affectionately named by adoring fans. Poor old Julio didn’t really manage to impress while on loan at Arsenal two years ago but he will always be fondly remembered for his Carling Cup hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield.
Likewise at Roma, Baptista has found his opportunities limited with only 6 appearances. The Beast has nevertheless managed to score an impressive 5 goals when given the chance. Julio’s crowning moment so far this season was a winner against Lazio in the Eternal derby. This would of course win the hearts and minds of any Roma fan, shown by this ever-so-slightly OTT Youtube tribute.
Baps could provide the deep-lying forward role mixed with a physical presence that could unsettle Arsenal’s disorganised and fragile backline…..probably not though.
Read through any Arsenal fan blog and you will come away with no doubt about what Arsene needs to do when the January transfer circus / sales open – BUY, BUY, BUY. It is unlikely that Wenger will try to single-handedly revive the British economy with excessive consumption, so Gooners may have to settle with the options available inside the current squad.
The long-awaited return of Eduardo Da Silva should excite football fans across Europe. The Crozillian is a lethal finisher with the tactical nous and intelligence to link up well with his team mates. He certainly brought out the best of Emmanuel Adebayor this time last year. The big question is whether he will be the same player. My feeling is that he will be after a few run outs against the likes of Blackburn and Bolton (or back on the injury-table). Provided he gets back into the team, Dudu could make the difference against Roma. Arsenal create chances against the best of sides but all too often wastefulness in front of goal has marked their downfall.
Tomas Rosicky’s return in the new year will give Arsenal the width and creativity they have been lacking with his and Walcott’s absence, as well as Samir Nasri’s battle to stay fit.
Bollocks to that, I am not convinced that Tomas Rosicky even exists anymore.
With Fabregas certain to miss the games against Roma, it appears that one of either Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere will have to step up to the mantle of providing creativity from central midfield. Wilshere is 16 and Ramsey was described as having average technique by Wenger when he signed from Cardiff. Arsene clearly isn’t sure about deploying either of these undoubtedly talented youngsters but I believe they may well be needed against a tight Roma midfield.
The likes of Perrotta and deRossi are tough and unforgiving midfielders, making it more imperative that Wenger add a defensive midfielder to his squad. However, the ability to keep possession and distribute accurately will be paramount qualities in this encounter.
My intelligent, yet biased mind tells me Arsenal will have the quality to see off the Italians. The Gunners usually thrive against teams that like to play football. However, this tie will be a very tight affair, especially with the second leg in Rome. Arsenal cannot afford to waste their chances at home.
If it remains level after the two legs, I suggest an alternative way to settle the tie – a dance off/ sing off. If my recommendation is taken up, these next few Youtube clips might give us an idea as to who the winners might be:
The dance / sing off
Result: Miss – that was awful, what is he trying to do? (side-note for Amer, at least Arsenal4Arabs is good for a laugh)
Result: Miss – what was that? Oh wait, here he goes again (1.55 minutes in). Even worse.
It’s Arsenal’s final chance to score and it’s Adebayor again but this time joined by his team mate Emmanual Eboue in a dance routine.
Result: Miss – Good timing to the moves but Adebayor couldn’t leave his funny noises (singing?) behind and it comes crashing down.
So can Roma win the contest? Up steps ex-Arsenal player, Julio ‘The Beast’ Baptista (known in some circles as ‘lead boots’) with a song and a bit of banjo playing.
Result: Score – As former Arsenal team-mates Denilson and Gilberto look on, ‘The Beast’ steals the show. Gooners should have known he would come back to haunt them!