Arsenal v Roma: First Leg.
Just one year ago, the world would be stampeding women, children and baby seals in a mad dash towards the Emirates to catch a glimpse of the purist's game. Unadultered football held to such lofty technical standards but a handful of teams in the world could aspire to such aesthetic heights, much less summit the mountain. Two sides who played for the soul of the game and the eye of the onlooker as equally as they did for the result.
This is, in essence, everything we - fans of the beautiful game - had been hoping for.
Except the complete opposite.
Now all is different. While still an enticing fixture, the only people likely to be stampeding the gates of the Emirates are personal injury lawyers and out of work physicians. Through devastating injuries, each side has been reduced to a shadow of its former high-flying self and each with varied results. Arsenal seemingly can't buy a goal these days, despite their gross abundance of technical talents and those bumper Emirates receipts, reflecting negatively in their results, while Roma has transformed itself from a traveling Cirque du Soleil application to a stubborn old man who won't allow anyone into his candy dish (except for his favorite niece, Atalanta), hurtling up the table at a snail's pace in his motorized scooter.
So where does this leave the game? Arsene Wenger wants it played openly. Of course he does. Because by "open game" what he means is a game where Roma could and inevitably will show the cracks one won't typically find with a tactically compact and organized Italian side. In other words: he wants to avoid the new Roma.
Luciano won't play that game.
That's not to say, however, that Spalletti will go all damage control and stack ten and a half in the Roman box as in the last jaunt to London. The away goal, my second favorite goal just behind the dot com, is a treasure more desirable than the Holy Grail and the lost city of Atlantis combined. In monetary terms, it's worth €∞. At least. It's the greatest thing since the sliced banana and cream cheese sandwich. It's the equivalent to half of a half of a lock off the deified dome of one Francesco Totti - and that's saying something. It is, in a word, priceless.
Oh yes, they will attack. But it won't be the Arsenal v Roma fixture for which we'd all been waiting. The ball will spend much of its day on the floor; grown men will cry at the sight of such brilliantly intelligent off the ball movement; nearly all involved will contribute a move normally reserved for video games; yet it won't be a cricket score.
Both injury ravaged squads have far more to win by playing a relatively conservative game. Roma to nullify Arsenal's Emirates advantage and return to the home fortress; Arsenal in the hopes of returning bodies and formulating a decent run of form before the second leg.
Maybe the one we've waiting for will have to wait just a little bit longer.
Injuries? We'll discuss those in the morning when the liveblog* goes up. For now, let's just say both squads are on equal planes.
* - I'm going to do my damndest to run a LB but am currently running without an operating system at the moment and I'm looking one computer shy. Hopefully will figure out something, though.
Indisponibili: Cassetti, Menez
Motta, Mexes, Loria, Riise
Perrotta, DDR, Brighi
Close to a wild guess, we'll know more in the morning.
Arsene Wenger v Luciano Spalletti: Two of the greatest tactical minds in the game matching wits. Worth the price of admission in itself.
RB & Help Defender v Samir Nasri: If you've been here for more than a short spell...you'll know I'm a fan - and for good reason. With Cesc out, Nasri is Arsenal's main avenue of creativity. Wenger likes visionary types with the ability to play the wing (see: Hleb, Rosicky) and Nasri fits the bill, so he usually starts out left, which is where you'll often find the ball to start Arsenal's attacking move before cutting inside. Stop the cut - either Nasri himself or the recipient of his pass - and that's half the battle.
Roma v "The Blackout": I love the way Daniele De Rossi so aptly described Roma's penchant for epic brain farts resulting in a flood of conceded goals. It's precisely that, a "blackout", and if they're to have any prayer of a result, they'll need to put in a full 90.
Roma v Simone Loria: Holy good Jesus...
Arsenal v Francesco Totti: Two straight games of admitted mediocrity. The man can't be stopped for long, full fitness or no.
Ye have been warned.
I think you know what's coming. The game will be won in the midfield through superior class, and there's only one man alive who can dominate in the manner of.....
(Or Matteo Perrotta.)
Yes, that's technically cheating, but the two-headed monster of world class workrate and grit, defensive solidarity, bombing attacking runs and surprising technique is one of Roma's greatest strengths and that which Arsenal lacks so dearly.
They are, in essence, the underpantaloons of Roma. While Arsenal will roll out onto the pitch featuring a fabulously bejeweled midfield, no one's going to be paying attention to their diamonds while they're standing in their birthday suits. Too many glitzy gems, not enough "essentials". Matteo and Simone are those essentials, providing the base layers for other players to exceed and shine - now and again sneaking their way into the limelight as well. They're the perfect team players who stifle creativity, rush the players who need time and disrupt a fluid attacking movement before launching into the attack.
This one's about "team", and team players get no better than Simone Brighi.
Really beginning to loathe the feeling of extreme confidence that struck before both Napoli and Genoa. It's here again.
Third time and I'll stop worrying so much.
Game: 2-1 Roma
Goals: Baptista (26), Nasri (50), Totti (62)
When: 2045 CET, 1445 EST.
Where: Emirates, London.
(I think there may be a Veetle - here - but we shall see.)
Andrea Tallarita's Football Italiano preview.
Banner graciously made by RomaShield27 of Serie A Forums.