Report: Roma 1-0 Arsenal (1-1 agg, 6-7 pens)
By Randy Osae
Character and poise won over resurgence and momentum tonight.
Arsenal had succumbed 1-0 after 120 minutes of football, but with the aggregate deadlock at 1-1, Wenger’s men held their nerves to defeat Roma 6-7 on penalties.
It was an impromptu route to the quarter-finals of the Champions League – a timid performance could not see off the Rome side, but what else mattered?
And the Gunners will hope to return to that particular city just in a couple of months time.
Wenger opted for the same eleven that snatched a 1-0 advantage in the tie a fortnight ago. Sunday’s saved guns; Almunia, Toure, Clichy, Denilson, Nasri, Bendtner and Van Persie all started.
For their need to turn the tide, Roma were inevitably at much buoy from first kick. It would take Arsenal only 10 minutes to concede.
Francesco Totti swept a low cross into the penalty area with Toure and Gallas clumsily missing out on a clearance. As a result, the ball rolled to Juan at the far post, and he fired past Almunia.
Arsenal look rattled, and the Italians may have initiated a drubbing from there on. Diaby did spurn a couple of chances – a weak effort onto a corner after been played into point-blank range and then missing a header right near the penalty spot.
Those moments were over-shadowed by Roma’s exploits at the other end as Almunia was called into action twice – first punching out Motta’s effort from close range and then parrying Taddei’s follow-up wide.
On the stroke of half-time, Clichy tackled Motta blatantly in the box. But to Arsenal’s reprieve, the considerable penalty appeal by the home fans was waved off.
The second-half did not differ. Wenger’s men were under the same bombardment as Julio Baptista nearly turned home a cross.
Sagna almost nicked in a near-post header but that would have been very wicked on Roma who then continued edging with Totti testing Almunia from further yards out.
Anything would do for Arsenal. A goal and the Italians would have to notch a double more.
And so, Eboue was withdrawn for Walcott. But for some reason, Baptista spared his former employees a lethal kick after been set up free from 10 yards out. He had missed a sitter – any kick would have executed Wenger’s men even with 10 minutes of the 90 left.
And five minutes later, Arsenal’s boss sensed the need for fresh leg as Eduardo trotted on at the expense of Bendtner.
The hustle would not be ending there. Into extra-time when Roma still owned momentum, Arsenal made two glimpses at goal. Van Persie dumped a volley onto Denilson’s cut back well over and then Walcott shot on target with his weaker foot after a swift turn into the box.
Nothing could give, and so it was down to an experience Wenger’s new class of youngsters had never stared before. The last time an Arsenal side partook a penalty shoot-out was at the Millennium Stadium in the 2005 FA Cup final.
Those were times when the old-hands of Vieira and co could settle matters, but perhaps to a slight awe, the kids of today were on that same path. Walcott, Nasri, Denilson, Toure and Sagna all slotted their spot-kicks right on the money to emulate that maneuver.
Indeed, Eduardo had fumbled the initial kick of the shoot-out when his precise finishing was needed the most. But Almunia met Vucinic’s following kick with his knee and kept Arsenal alive.
And in sudden-death, Diaby kept his cool to put the Gunners on the brink before Tonetto blasted both the ball and the home side’s dreams of playing the final at the Stadio Olimpico.
Arsenal, on the other end, had theirs ignited with a quarter-final berth.