Roma 1-0 Arsenal; kids go through on penalties

this-image-is-everywhere, at least I'm trying to do something original with it

Match Video

As always, the Arsenalist has the video.  I had to actually download the file from the link he provides since either my script blocker is preventing the inline video from playing or the inline video is just broken. Either way, it’s totally worth it.

Man of the Match

I wanted to give Man of the Match to Almunia because, I reasoned, keepers get to shine during penalty shootouts and since we won on penalties you have to give the nod to Almunia. If you add in that he made a game saving finger-tip save, it seemed a lock for the big fella to get the champagne.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the whole team shined in that shootout last night. Eduardo had missed the first penalty and, like a foil for the game itself, the team had to overcome that let down and just put in a solid bit of work. Which they did, one after the other, 7 in a row.

7 in a row!

These are kids! I mean, Theo has never taken a penalty before and yet he stuck it like a pro. But even singling Theo out is unfair because each one of these players, down the line, stood up for each other, and just did what they were asked.

In the end, it took 7 teammates to win that match, so I’m giving the whole team Man of the Match.

Match Reports

All the match reports I’ve read tell it like it was, which is to say, a rather shitty game. After Roma scored both teams seemed to have let off the gas a bit and the match became 120 minutes of not allowing the opponent to score.

That said, as I sat there watching Roma play defense and Arsenal try to play offense the one thing that stood out was Roma was wasting time — at the 60th minute. I can’t remember their names but there were several times that an Arsenal player would put in a good tackle and the Roma player would go to ground, and start rolling around feigning injury. Then the f*cking stretcher would come out and take this guy off the pitch only to have him pop right back up and be ready to come on right away.

I know that the carrot colored c*nt Spalletti said they were going to have a “cautious” approach but I didn’t expect them to be playing for penalties at the 60th minute. Was that really the game plan? Get a goal and then sit back and go to penalties?  Strange.

And the goal… *sigh* Totti plays in a cross, Gallas pokes and misses, Toure pokes and misses and the ball rolls through 7 more pairs of legs and slowly  comes to Juan, who is sitting on the edge of the box, skimming through his copy of Ivanhoe. Juan kind of looks around, saves his place in the book, takes a little touch, and calmly puts the ball in the net. Gross. Infuriating. Sickening.

In the end, that goal didn’t matter though.

Hell, in the end, nothing mattered; not Roma’s “game plan” (whatever that was), not Arsenal’s poor performance, not the one squandered chance that Eboue played in to Bendtner, not Totti’s leg brace, not the dive in the box, and not even Eduardo’s soft penalty kick… nothing mattered.

Because in the end, a collection of kids stood shoulder to shoulder and calmly put in 7 penalties in a row.

That’s all that mattered.

Conclusion

It almost doesn’t matter who we get paired with in the next round (who wants to bet that we get Barcelona?), or that Arsenal host Blackburn on Saturday, and Hull Shitty on Tuesday. Because as I watched the boys celebrate it occurred to me that they may have reached a moment in this most difficult of seasons that the team came together and gutted out a performance, as a team.

So, whatever happens from here on out, I’m hopeful that they can take that moment where they stood shoulder to shoulder and put 7 penalties in as a team, take that forward and build on it. No matter what else happens this season, they will always have Rome and I’d love to see them capitalize on that.

Our density has brought us to this point. I mean, destiny.

In the land of the blind, the one one eyed man is king

Despite plane troubles that nixed the pre-match press conference, Wenger found a way to get out to press a good ole fashioned pep-talk, saying that the destiny of the team is in their hands and that he wants the boys to be rewarded for all their hard work and that he’s personally going to buy them all a pony when they get back to London, if they beat Roma.

Sounding a familiar refrain, he said:

You judge a season at the end of the season and it’s down to us in the coming months to show that we have the necessary quality and that people were too quick to write us off.

Sorry, but I don’t recall any “writing off” of this team. I do recall “slagging off” after shiatty performances but that is perfectly natural and something I think the boss and his creche of players would do well to take on board rather than dismiss out of hand with broad statements like “we have been written off” and “judge us at the end of the season.” Fans, ‘fanatics’ who love the club, are going to judge and be pissed off when they spend $1000 to fly to London to watch Arsenal take on a team of Tottenham rejects and put in a performance that was literally a somniferant to at least one other spectator.

I can’t possibly speak for everyone but I’m fairly certain that what we all want to see is a team that is progressing from year to year. Getting better, challenging for awards, give the fans something to celebrate, and for 3/4 of this season, this was a club that looked more like it was digressing rather than progressing. Yes, Wenger and The Young Ones have turned that around a bit with this current run of form and Arsenal are finally closer to 4th place than 6th. They are also a hound’s tooth away from the Champions League 1/4 finals and still playing catch-up with the rest of the league in the FA Cup.

Huzzah, keep up the good work, but could you all please do us a favor and stop pointing the finger outward for once? Take some responsibility for this mess?

If we have been critical it’s because the team has put in a lot of gormless performances and the manager has refused to bolster key positions that he even admitted that the team needed. Frankly, it’s patently disingenuous to say “oh well, you shouldn’t have written us off” before you win anything. It’s almost as if he’s gloating, like he’s saying “I told you not to write us off” — dude, beating Burnley and West Brom is hardly setting the world on fire. It was only two weeks ago that Arsenal let Fulham, FULHAM, overrun our midfield. So, maybe save the gloating for when you win the Champions League, you know, at the end of the season, when we’re all supposed to judge you?

For me, the worst part of what he’s doing is that by blaming those of us who have been critical, it absolves the team of their responsibility. And in this match today this team will be held accountable by Roma. Roma have watched the Fulham and Sunderland match tapes and they are saying that they are going to be “cautious” and “patient” which translates into “defensive” and “stealing goals on the counter.” Arsenal will need to be at the top of their game and not let off for one second — this is a Champions League game, there’s no do overs.

Fortunately, one characteristic of this team is that they do show up for big matches and if they play the way they did two weeks ago, if Denilson and Song can scratch out a huge performance in the middle again, and if Arsenal can take the chances we are given, I have no doubt that they will beat Roma.

This team has the quality to beat Roma but it’s not about the quality, it’s about the desire. We’ll find out if they have the desire tonight.

"Don't travel alone"

3,400 Arsenal supporters are descending on Rome in order to sit in the cavernous Stadio Olimpico and watch Roma and Arsenal finish their Champions League tie. It should be a good day out and a lovely trip to a wonderful old city, but for those 3,400 Gooners as they lay their heads to rest tonight, scenes of stabbings and police brutality have to be dancing in their heads.

The club have taken steps to warn Arsenal supporters where they should and shouldn’t travel, to remind them to travel in groups, and that they are ambassadors of the club. Combined with the fact that Arsenal supporters, generally, aren’t known for their hooliganism and I expect (knock on wood) that everything should go smoothly tomorrow.

But it is a bit unsettling to have the club remind the supporters that the Rome police and Roma “Ultras” have a long history of being complete twats. The Roma players aren’t doing anything to help the situation, rather they are inciting their supporters to turn the Stadio Olimpico into a cauldron. I suppose they need all the help they can get with all the injuries to the team. Totti has supposedly found fitness but Daniele De Rossi is still suspended, Perrotta and Cicinho are injured, and Panucci is being benched for a fracas with the boss over playing time — you want more playing time? I got your playing time right here!

If Arsenal do go through I suspect that the story from the Giallorossi will be “boo hoo, look at all our injuries” despite the fact that Arsenal are the ones who have been devastated by injury this season. No matter, you go to war with the army you have not the army you wish you had, according to Donald Rumsfield, and the Army we have is gaining fitness quick.

Toure has been included for the trip and the boss has said he will pick from “two of three” in Gallas, Toure, and Djourou for the central pairing.  Nasri and Denilson are back in the first team after being rested against Burnley and even some dude named Silvestre is gaining fitness, though he hasn’t been included for the trip because, erm, “he only returned to training on Monday.”

No word on whether Diaby picked up an injury which means that he’ll probably be fit for the match, and similarly the press are quiet on van Persie, so fingers crossed that those two are available. Pairing them in attack and providing some width, pace, and goal scoring acumen the boss has indicated that Theo and Eduardo will make the trip. No word yet on Vela, but after his goal on Sunday, the boss would be mad not to take him.

As you all know, Cesc and Rosicky are still out, despite my optimism that Cesc would be back for this match. Oh well, I can’t be right about everything! Also, Arshavin is out because he played in some Champions League qualifying match last year — which makes sense really (sarcasm).

Historically, Wenger plays a 4-5-1 in these matches and I don’t think that’s going to change tomorrow. Expect to see van Persie alone up front, Nasri and Eboue on the wings, and a central midfield of Denilson, Diaby, and Song. At the back Toure will captain the side and partner with Gallas, while Clichy and Sagna will be playing at wing-back. Of course, Future England Number One will be in the net.

Depending on the score line we could see Theo get battered and deep fried around the 60th minute and if we get truly desperate (down 2-0) I suspect Arsene will throw on Eduardo and Bendtner. Or maybe Eduardo, then Theo, then Bendtner, I really don’t know and it all depends on the flow of the game.

Right, all that’s at stake here is a 17 match unbeaten run and some £10m — no pressure! Seriously, though, Arsenal have a 1-0 advantage and any goal they put in at the Stadio Olimpico adds to that advantage. As it stands, a 1-0 Roma win adds extra time, a 2-0 Roma win means they go through outright, and a 2-1 Roma win means Arsenal progress on the away goals rule. I rather like those odds.

The match is live at noon on Setanta and Doyle’s is graciously showing the match. Now, I say “noon,” however, owing to the fact that George W. Bush f*cked up everything about America, including our clocks, we are now out of sync with the rest of the world and instead of PST being -8 GMT, it’s right now -7 GMT. Arsenal.com puts kickoff at 19:45 GMT which is actually 12:45 PST and given Setanta’s penchant for pre-match pontificating puppets I strongly suspect actual kickoff is 12:45 local time. So, unless you like puppets making bad jokes, I’d show up at 12:30.

Clear?

See you tomorrow!