On the eve of last night's match against Roma, Arsene Wenger compared his team to Manchester United's "Golden Generation" and claimed, “I believe this team is as good as anything in England.”
Though Wenger's side did not quite match those lofty descriptions in their win over a poor Roma side, they undoubtedly showed glimpses, however once again their failure to convert their attacking zeal and dominance into goals will be a concern, albeit a minor one.
Speaking after the match, Wenger rued those missed chances, stating, "I'm happy with our performance but there was room to score more goals—we know we can create chances." Meanwhile counterpart Luciano Spalletti admitted, "We struggled throughout this match tonight, as they were brilliant when in possession of the ball."
Indeed Roma were very poor, and big-name players such as Totti, Baptista and Taddei were virtually anonymous. While Arsenal, matching up to their opponents in an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 formation, had the game's best performers in Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and the forceful Abou Diaby—who dominated a midfield packed with illustrious names.
Indeed it was Arsenal who created most of the game's early chances, as their passing game dominated Roma as Wenger's cute tactical switch—which saw Bendtner operating on the left side of the three with Samir Nasri scheming just behind lone front man van Persie—proved effective, creating early chances for Bendtner and Nasri.
Their pressure was rewarded as a neat van Persie turn past Loria, who struggled all night, saw him chopped down by Philippe Mexes—once an Arsenal target—and the Dutchman picked himself up and coolly sent Doni the wrong way to put the Gunners in front.
Roma were struggling to keep up with their youthful counterparts and barely tested either Toure or Gallas at the heart of the Arsenal defence. Bar a couple of speculative efforts from full backs Motta and Riise, they barely registered an effort on goal all evening, and influential midfielder Danielle De Rossi in his frustrations was booked for cynically fouling Samir Nasri and will miss the second leg.
The second half began in bizarre fashion with Toure and Gallas missing the kick off. Arsenal continued to dominate, and for a five minute period looked like they would put the tie beyond doubt. But both the struggling Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue's nerves failed them as they well-placed to put the tie beyond doubt.
But Arsenal were not made to pay, and bar a couple of speculative efforts on Doni's goal, they comfortably saw the game out, while they didn't get the goals their dominance deserved, they are well placed to proceed to the next phase.
Almunia-7, Sagna-7,Toure-7, Gallas-7, Clichy-7, Denilson-7, Diaby-8, Eboue-7, Bendtner-6, Nasri-8, Van Persie-8
Doni-6, Motta-8, Mexes-7, Loria-5, Riise-7, De Rossi-6, Perrotta-6, Taddei-5, Brighi-6, Baptista-5, Totti-5
Man of the Match
Abou Diaby—The leggy Frenchman gave a fine performance against a big-name Roma midfield, and was a constant driving force in the Arsenal midfield, perhaps illustrating that he could still live up to the Patrick Vieira comparisons.