Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Champions League Preview: Arsenal v. Roma

As the resident UFer who follows Arsenal in a I-like-to-cheer-for-a-team-I-can-actually-see-on-TV- once-in-a-while-and-my-wife-really-liked-
Fever-Pitch sort of way, this preview fell to me. It seems that I alone of our contingent did not fear jinxing the Gunners' progress in the Champions League. Or something like that. Whatever. You're stuck with me.

I don't fear jinxing it, because I don't think Arsenal will advance. Well, that was my initial take on it anyway. When the draw was done and Arsenal were installed as slight favorites, I talked to some betting friends of mine and told them to put money on Roma.

Whether or not they listened to me is their own problem.

Because, you'll see, I don't feel the same way anymore. Arsenal may not have won in a dog's age, but they aren't losing either. Throw away the last Group Stage match against Porto, when Arsenal advancing was already assured, and this team has not lost since the start of December. Nil-nil draws against the likes of Sunderland in the league aren't making the supporters happy, but a couple of nil draws and PK advancement here and they will be, if not ecstatic, happy enough.

Unfortunately, a couple of nil-nil draws might just be what this team needs to get through. New signing Arshavin is cup-tied and, of course, there are the injuries. Rosicky's never coming back. Walcott and Fabs are still a ways off. Now, Eduardo has picked up a hammy to complement Adebayor's.

That's a lot of potential goal scorers who just are not available. Which leaves the Arsenal list of go-to goal scorers at one-and-a-half. Robin van Persie being the one, and Bendtner filling out the rest. While some of the kids (Vela, Wilshere, Ramsey) may have impressed back in the first two League Cup matches, I don't fancy them to step up here.

How, then, does Arsenal have any chance to score?

The answer lies on the other side of the ball. Roma have been woefully inconsistent of late. Two weeks ago, they trounced on-fire-at-the-time Genoa 3-0. They followed that up one week later with a 3-0 loss to Atalanta. Going back through their fixtures, a pattern develops. One week, they shut down an opponent, the next they ship a couple of goals. For this to work in Arsenal's favor, Roma would have had to shut out their last opponent. On Sunday, Roma defeated Siena 1-0.

Roma seem to be built to play an anti-catenaccio. They are strong in the middle of the park, somewhat overwhelming up top, but virtually anonymous at the back (save the street fightin' Mexes). Therefore, the M.O. seems to be: score first; get the other team pressing to score; score again. With the add-in that if Roma go behind, they are unlikely to pull back. That is, Roma will be defeated by catenaccio, but cannot use it themselves. Which does not bode well for Roma when going up against Arsenal.

Prediction: In an odd shift of personality, Arsenal have become defensive stalwarts while they struggle to score goals. In fact, you have to go back to Boxing Day against Villa to find a match that Arsenal allowed more than one goal in. In the ten matches since, Arsenal have conceded only three goals. It's not the Arsenal that I came to know when I first got FSC, but it is an style that suits two-legged ties well. And it's a style that will see Arsenal advance, I think, but I'm not willing to bet on it. Arsenal 2-1 over 2 legs.


The NY Kid said...

It is a widely-known fact that Phillipe Mexes is a douchebag.

Andrew said...

I see Arsenal advancing 3-1. But Roma did win the CL (or Champions Cup) in Manager this year. Not sure what that portends.