Report: Arsenal 1-0 AS Roma
By Randy Osae
A normally elusive penalty kick – converted by Van Persie – was the difference as Arsenal edged out Roma in a compelling round-of-16 first leg.
Wenger’s men will take a mere lead into the return leg in Rome knowing this is no job done, but it is advantage Arsenal nonetheless.
The eminence could have been more, some chances were spurned, but unlike last year, Arsenal will not have to rue an Adebayor header which struck the bar nor a blatant penalty kick unrewarded.
For a misfiring side, Arsenal came out and questioned first in this clash. The hosts were very much on the front foot from the start, and stayed there.
Initially, Samir Nasri was fed through on the right. He pulled the ball back to Bendtner on the edge of the penalty area, but the unmarked Dane hesitated with his first touch and eventually saw a poised effort blocked. Nasri then headed faintly onto Clichy’s pin-point cross later on, but the ball traveled just wide.
Roma would always be absorptive and strive to unleash sucker punches. And Marco Motta undermined that when he fiercely stroke from 25 yards out – with the ball heading towards the goal’s top corner – but Almunia impressively met it with his finger tips.
The visitors had been chasing shadows though, and neither would they legitimately stop Van Persie’s surge into the box as Mexes tripped the Dutchman soon after half an hour turned .
Gifted but richly-deserved, Arsenal had the upper-hand from an unlikely source as Van Persie swerved his spot-kick past Roma’s goalkeeper.
They had gained some leeway, and the goal scorer nearly set-up a second for Bendtner who could not find his feet after receiving Van Perie’s cut-back pass in a crowded 18-yard box. The Gunners greeted some boon though, moments before the break. De Rossi’s yellow card for an indecent tackle on Nasri, suspends him for the second leg in Rome.
The visitors materialized attack more after the restart but it was Arsenal who were close to execution when Bendtner horribly scuffed the ball into the stands after Van Persie’s attempt for a shot had been pushed to the free Dane.
Diaby then unleashed a thunderous effort which tested Doni. That was his last act of the match as the Frenchman went off for Song on the hour mark.
Suddenly Arsenal looked to butcher a frail Roma defense with Eboue latching onto a mistaken back pass, but the Ivorian never really looked odds on to provide that slayer – stalling the ball for defenders to rush back, and eventually hitting the side-netting.
Arsenal had been very lenient with Roma, and Wenger inquired a different scene by taking off Bendtner for Vela. But the visitors just missed out on haunting the Gunners through Riise, who smashed literally centimeters wide off Almunia’s left-hand post.
Anxiety was budding at this point as Roma gambled for a wicked equalizer. But Wenger’s men did not let slip the spoils, and in a fortnight’s time, will have to do the clinching at Stadio Olimpico.