Arsenal and AS Roma meet each other in the Champions League knockout round over two legs in February and March.
The two clubs have endured frustrating seasons to say the least, with Arsenal sitting 15 points off the lead in the English Premier League and AS Roma sitting 16 points off the lead in Serie A.
Both these teams are renowned for playing the ‘beautiful’ brand of football that thrills fans to no end, but both are also in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot for next season.
The two similar styles are set to clash in an intriguing second round Champions League tie that most certainly will define the remainder of their respective seasons. Roma are being picked as favorites by several sports pundits, and that is mostly down to the weaknesses displayed by Arsenal this season, and the edge in experience that Roma possesses.
Below is an attempt to break down who holds the advantage in defense, midfield, and attack, and where this second round tie could be decided.
Defense: Advantage AS Roma
While Arsenal have been criticized for having a leaky defense, in reality, AS Roma haven’t exactly been a model of discipline at the back either.
If one looks at the respective league statistics, Arsenal have conceded 25 goals in 25 games, while AS Roma have conceded 31 times in 24 games. Therefore, defensive nerves are evident for both the "attack-minded" clubs.
Arsenal’s best backline looks to be Sagna, Toure, Gallas, and Clichy. However, an injury to any one of these players is likely to play into AS Roma’s hands. AS Roma’s defense is also blended with youth and experience: Panucci, Riise, Mexes, and Juan.
Arsenal are on a pretty good defensive run with only three goals conceded in their last nine games in all competitions, and Roma have just been humbled by Atalanta 3-0. But when the two teams meet, Arsenal’s vulnerability against set pieces is likely to give the edge here to AS Roma.
Midfield: Advantage Arsenal (very slightly)
To say that Arsenal are missing Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott would be an understatement. Unfortunately Andrei Arshavin is cup-tied, but Walcott should be back in contention for at least one of the two legs.
AS Roma’s midfield is packed with the experience of De Rossi and Perrotta, along with the youthful Aquilani. The key to giving Arsenal the advantage here is the return of Walcott down the right flank and the creative possibilities that ensue when Samir Nasri is deployed down the middle.
The pace of Arsenal’s counter-attack from midfield is likely to give a slight edge to the Gunners here, especially if Carlos Vela plays down the left flank.
Attack: Advantage Arsenal
Despite the experience of Totti, Vucinic, and Baptista, I would have to give the edge to Arsenal here. Robin Van Persie has been in fine form, scoring consistently of late. The return of Eduardo seems to have brought back the confidence in Arsenal’s forwards, and his predatory instincts in front of goal do not seem to have been hampered at all by his career-threatening injury a year ago.
Van Persie and Eduardo are likely to start with Adebayor missing, and Arsenal’s pace on attack is likely to be the key advantage especially if Walcott is barreling down the right in the second leg. Totti’s experience for Roma is likely to count for a lot, and if Gallas can handle his presence, AS Roma may find it difficult to create clear opportunities in the final third.
Goalkeeping: Advantage AS Roma
While Manuel Almunia has done well, he has still had his lapses of concentration during the season. For AS Roma, Alexander Doni hasn’t had a great season either, but he does have international experience with the Brazilian national side. It is a tough call to make, but Almunia may be at a slight disadvantage if it comes down to a penalty shootout (Jens Lehmann he most certainly is not).
Final Verdict: Arsenal to sneak through 3-2 on aggregate
A goal-fest might reasonably be expected, but the stakes are much higher than the group stage. A first leg two-goal advantage for any team is likely to be too much to catch up to.
A first leg 2-0 for Arsenal followed by a 2-1 for AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico is likely to see Arsenal scrape through to yet another quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League.
Arsenal will know the importance of progressing in the Champions League, as it keeps the momentum created by the 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions going strong, and gets them closer to any kind of silverware.
Even if Arsenal don’t go on to win the Champions League (which they are not likely to), a victory over AS Roma will provide much needed confidence to take into the final third of the Premier League and latter stages of the FA Cup.