Arsenal 1 - Roma 0
The result in itself is not upsetting - not in the least. What is upsetting, however, is the immense opportunity not only bottled but kicked, punched, smothered, shredded, defiled, deflowered and ultimately discarded in the dumpster like an incestual tryst.
Arsenal might as well have been named Red Cross on the night, because they bailed Roma out time after time after time. Their finishing was Roma's disaster control. Even the English commentators - despite having intelligence quotients just below state-defined mental retardation - noted the Gunners were begging the boys in black to tie it up. Arsenal's paralympic team could've finished better than their "senior" counterparts on the day. Not even Queen Elizabeth has service that "royal". We could go on and on and on. One-nil is not a bad away result in the first leg of a knockout campaign, but it's an epic victory when it should have been four or five, at least, to a goose egg.
Credit, however, is due to whomever convinced the Arsenal kiddies this was a World Cup final. They were lightning out of the gate and throughout the first half, the impact of their drive, pace and youthful dynamism only being accentuated when David Pizarro came on in the second half and Roma were able to slow down the tempo a touch. While not quite night and day - Arsenal still had their chances - the Roman offense finally kicked into gear. His ability to sit on the ball and dribble his way out of tight situations - basically he's the anti-Baptista - was paramount in escaping the suffocating speed with which Arsenal's defenders closed in on the ball. Arsenal played it right.
But then again, they had the pieces to play it right, despite their injuries, whereas Roma were desperately lacking one attribute so clearly. The two greatest difference makers on the day would clearly have been Mirko & Yeremy, as the team that showed up in London had precisely no pace about it whatsoever - something which was foreshadowed against Siena. Get beyond the ball? Pish. Not with the man designed to make those runs, Simone Perrotta, only making it to the half before Julio Baptista coughed up the ball more easily than a SARS patient, forcing the human pinball back on the defensive. Totti? Please. What he did with so little help was immense. Triple teamed all night with zero help whatsoever til David arrived on the pitch and the lads were finally afforded some space.
Were the tactics wrong? Probably not - ten out of ten coaches start the same lineup. The back was crippled and that, the legs of the formation, sent the rest crumbling to its knees. The Roma which can dazzle Europe with its brilliance does so because they play as a solidified team with confidence enabling them to unleash their supreme technical qualities. A Roma lacking the legs to form a solid base is merely a jagged mess, and that's precisely what we saw on Tuesday.
1-0 was a gift, and roundabout the time Arsenal missed its 487th sitter I couldn't help but think, "my god, this is just screaming the luck that teams inevitably need to make it to the title game". Surely not if the same Roma shows up in Rome, but we all know how La Magica performs in front of a booming Olimpico. Apples and oranges. Or bananas, even.
It's not often that teams are offered a second chance in elite football. The Roman leg is nothing short of a second chance, and they need to attack it with a vengeance.
Notes & Observations
- The pitch: whadafuxup? It was Roma On Ice. Unfortunately only the good guys suffered from Bambi-itis, thus we can only chalk it up to home-field advantage.
- Marco Motta: Had you subjected yourself to my incessant gushing towards the end of January, you'll know I'm not surprised. However, I didn't expect him to show the maturity and composure he's shown so early and, particularly under Spalletti, at such a young age. Kid's just a special talent and after all of three games I suspect that "buy option" is now a foregone conclusion - if only because €7m is an absolute steal.
- Another of my player crushes was vindicated Tuesday - unfortunately he played for the wrong side. The media can talk Gourcuff and Benzema all they want, but Nasri's the future of France.
- I genuinely like and sympathize with Simone Loria. I really do. He can't help being thrown into the deep-end of the pool without floaties and with the buoyancy of cement.
Despite that, he can never play another minute for Roma again. Dismissing his obvious gaps in mental composure, his confidence must be hovering around that of an obese teenage girl with the facial hair of Chewbacca - while consequently the team's confidence in his abilities must be equally as low. He's a liability, plain and simple, and it's impossible to foresee any way Spalletti can afford to risk giving him enough playing time to boost his confidence back to even acceptable levels.
- Athletes are, gasp, human, as much as we expect them to mimic machines simply because they're more naturally gifted than the hoi polloi. So if true that DDR split up with his wife this week, anything hovering around average - as was the case in London - is more than enough. Lord knows it's been a trying six months for that family.
- Julio Baptista....oh boy. I'm pretty sure that was his best showing for Arsenal yet. The Beast was a Care Bear. Except you wanted to punch him. Right in the mouth. Unless you like punching Care Bears, in which case The Beast was just a Care Bear.
- Menez & Mirko. Mirko & Menez. Yeremy & Vuci. Vuci & Yeremy. Menez & Mirko. Mirko & Menez. Yeremy & Vuci. Vuci & Yeremy. Menez & Mirko. Mirko & Menez. Yeremy & Vuci. Vuci & Yeremy. Menez & Mirko. Mirko & Menez. Yeremy & Vuci. Vuci & Yeremy. Menez & Mirko. Mirko & Menez. Yeremy & Vuci. Vuci & Yeremy.
Without one of the two the attack lacks any pace and a great deal of fluidity. At least in the 4-2-3-1 the lack of pace could be disguised by intelligent movement, clever positioning, overlapping runs and commanding possession. Watching this attack attempt to build steam is as pleasurable as receiving a rectal exam from a doctor nicknamed "Nubby".
- Continuing with this theme, a healthy Mirko is more important than Daniele De Rossi in Rome. There, I said it.
That said, losing DDR for the return leg is a massive, massive blow - and this is before the inevitable laundry list of injuries.
- Loria has set my standards so low for a backup central defender I actually found myself perusing the back files of my brain's Roma department for Diamoutene's buyout clause - all of six minutes after he'd entered. (True story - and it's €3.3m or so.)
- Is it me or did absolutely everyone in the stadium know Van Persie was going to pull that peno to Doni's left? I'm guessing Alex knew this, but also knew neither he nor a cheetah on performance enhancing drugs was fast enough to beat RVP's left peg of iron. With no chance, it was worth praying he went right.
- Van Persie's the new Pavel Nedved. That's all.
ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy; Eboue (82' Ramsey), Denilson, Diaby (62' Song), Nasri; Van Persie, Bendtner.
A disposizione: Fabiański, Djorou, Vela, Gibbs, Merida.
ROMA (4-3-1-2): Doni; Motta, Loria (70' Diamoutene), Mexes, Riise; Taddei, De Rossi, Brighi (57' Pizarro); Perrotta; Baptista (82' Vucinic), Totti.
A disposizione: Artur, Tonetto, Filipe, Montella.
Note: 60.003 spettatori.
Ammoniti: Mexes, Brighi, Tourè, Nasri, De Rossi
Marcatori: 37' pt Van Persie (rig.)
Upon a very brief glance I couldn't find any of worth, and considering how dire they must be, I've decided not to look any further and implore everyone else to do the same.
I've given up on doing player ratings during a liveblog, but let's just say everyone gets a 6 outside of Motta (12.5), Doni (7.5), Pizarro (7) and Julio Loria (-157).
Wonder how the script is coming along?