Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Arsenal versus Roma

A match of massive significance for the Arsenal today - in fact, it's massive as much for the continuing galvanization of this young and multi-national side as it is for the reminder of 2009 season. To say nothing of my mood for the rest of the week. (Image at right: how welcoming.)

It's the second leg of the first knockout game of the Champions League, the round of 16. Arsenal were 1-nil winners at home in London in the first leg and have travelled to Rome for today's encounter. That win came on February 24, during a run of six consecutive clean sheets and a perfectly clean February for the Club. Problem was, or perhaps the stunner as they won the match, it also came during a run of a severe goalless drought for a team that normally bags plenty in style.

The noted fact out of those matches, though, was that while Arsenal struggled to put in the final twist and nab their goals, they still bossed the game. It appeared to be, as has been discussed in this space (check the archives) an intentional tactic to hold the line until the cavalry came roaring back. Now, on the back of two consecutive three goal efforts, Arsenal are coming back to their stride and their confidence.  And so the team heads to Rome, brimming with pace and even a little vigor. It must be one of the more interesting matches to come along in quite some time, yeah?

Arsenal have a strong record of late against Italian opposition, unbeaten in four trips including recent triumphs over Juventus and AC Milan. This event today marks an opportunity to well and truly turn the page and move from promise to challenger. This team of youngsters has been standing on the edges of the truly competitive for a couple of years now. Ever loaded with the promise that one day, just you watch, these lads will string it together and prove their boss right (stubborn in their defense as he's been). That time is coming up at us awfully quickly, with many reaching the point of mere unwillingness to find, much less make, excuses.

Attention turns, then, to the team that Arsene Wenger will put out there. A great deal of the offensive exposure and movement we've seen in the last couple of weeks has come from the influence of the brilliant Andrei Arshavin. He's ineligible for this one, Cup tied as he appeared in the group stages with former club Zenit St. Petersburg (a ridiculous law given their elimination). Will Walcott start after his cameo on Sunday? Will Vela come in again to continue to prove his worth? Will Eduardo start to continue his terrific form in his return from injury? Van Persie will surely get the full match and be looking to score again. The Dutchman has led this team through most of the season, keeping them afloat in spite of incoherent form. Given the leadership he's shown to this point, there's no doubt he'll have a burning desire to score that important first goal.

Here's to it, lads! Go light 'em on fire ... and here's hoping they watched that fantastic Liverpool team yesterday. Every. Single. Ball. Every opportunity was challenged by Liverpool, Torres tracked back, fullbacks pushed the line, Gerrard never stopped running, Mascherano was always there to keep and retake possession. Reina, one of my new favourite people (more on that later), made the spectacular saves called for by the few actually occasions of challenge. What a performance. It's a example that can definitely be followed.

There's a lot of work to do. It's just gutting to know I won't be able to watch this one. (work and all)

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