Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arsenal to Face Roma with Young-star!

Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal's Champions League showdown with AS Roma will provide the acid test of his young team's ability to compete at the highest level.

The Gunners face Roma in the first leg of their last 16 tie at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday and Wenger knows his gamble of fielding so many youngsters this season could come back to haunt him against the Italians.

Long-term injuries to Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky have left Wenger especially short of options in midfield.

That lack of experience is a major concern against a Roma team who can flood the midfield battle-ground with a potent mix of skill and power.

To make matters worse for Wenger, new signing Andrei Arshavin is ineligible after playing for Zenit St Petersburg earlier in the competition.

Wenger has little choice but to put his faith in the likes of Alexandre Song, Denilson and Aaron Ramsey and hope they can rise to the occasion.

"When you play against Roma you know there is one battle you cannot lose and that is in midfield because that is their strong point," Wenger said.

"They play with a congested midfield and with a lot of short passing on the ground. If you lose that battle, you will be second best.

"Denilson will have an important part to play in the Roma game. I am surprised how little credit he has got for what he has delivered since the start of the season.

"He does not talk too much, but he is very efficient. If you look at the numbers and the amount of balls he wins, he is one of the top midfield players in the country on many indexes."

With a daunting trip to the Stadio Olympico for the second leg awaiting the Gunners, anything less than a victory will leave them in danger of elimination.

But Wenger is more concerned with avoiding the concession of a potentially vital away goal.

"The weight of the away goal is massive," he said. "It has become too important. When you draw 0-0 at home, the team you play away has absolutely to score, so they come at you."

After Saturday's goal-less draw against Sunderland at the Emirates, Arsenal have now gone three league matches without scoring.

That barren run has Arsenal six points adrift of the top four and in danger of missing out on Champions League football next season.

Wenger, who is likely to be without strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo against Roma, concedes his team's spluttering form is taking its toll on their morale and making them rush at key moments.

"The attitude is very good among the players but in the final third we are not as efficient as we could be," Wenger said.

"Our passing is sometimes not incisive enough. Maybe the strikers are not alerted quickly enough. We were not quick or relaxed enough and, overall, it's difficult."

Roma qualified for the knockout stages top of their group ahead of Chelsea, who they beat 3-1 at home.

Despite that, Luciano Spalletti's side, who defeated Siena 1-0 at the weekend, are 16 points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan and regarded as outsiders for success in Europe.

Yet Wenger has no intention of underestimating any side containing the likes of Francesco Totti, Philippe Mexes and Daniele De Rossi.

"They're a strange side," Wenger said. "They like to do well against the good teams in Italy, so we must be cautious."

Another familiar face in the Roma line-up could be Brazil's Julio Baptista, who spent part of last season on loan at Arsenal.

Baptista knows how hard it will be to get past Arsenal. "The game against Arsenal is going to be tough but we will be ready."

1 comment:

  1. I just have this nagging feeling that the midfield will be over crowded ...and we will struggle with the likes of Denilson. Have to admit his presence and stature in midfield doesn't exactly build up my confidence.

    *Fingers crosses* A clean sheet is a must