Arsène Wenger is correct when he says that tonight’s game may well define more than just this season.
After building up a head of steam in the last couple of matches, albeit against sub-standard opposition, tonight the Gunners have the chance to show that all the toil and education they (and we) have endured over the past year has been worthwhile.
Anyone reading the reports following the first leg against Roma would have thought we had lost at home rather than won 1-0 against a fairly decent side, who we restricted to virtually no worthwhile effort on goal in 90 minutes.
Sure, it would have been preferable to have scored another couple of goals, but as we saw last night, away goals make a lot of difference in this competition: Roma didn’t get one, and we have 90 minutes to get one of our own.
I used to watch both the Italian capital’s teams when I lived in Rome a few years ago and it’s true that the atmosphere tonight could be intimidating.
Expect flares, whistling, bottles thrown at our players – even if the pitch is quite a way away from the fans – who offend the home crowd or look too threatening.
I was there when Galatasaray and Roma had a fight on the pitch, when referee Anders Frisk was injured in a later game, and I’ve been caught in the middle of fans fighting between themselves.
Make no mistake, this will be an intimidating game in an intimidating atmosphere.
But as Wenger indicated, it’s not the job of a great team to worry about the opposition. It’s their job to make their opponents worry about them.
After all, Francesco Totti is nursing his way through the season with an injury which prevented him playing on Sunday and made him almost anonymous at Emirates, Philippe Mexes has a fever, star striker Mirko Vučinić is struggling and Roma are missing Simone Perrotta, Cicinho and Max Tonetto and suspended midfield star Daniele De Rossi.
Arsenal have had 10 clean sheets in the last 14 matches and Roma have lost 10 games in all this season, including a home CL defeat against CFR Cluj and the onus on us to attack becomes clear. Roma are there for the taking.
So how will Wenger play?
The absence of Nic Bendtner on Sunday suggests to me that he may well start because his aerial power and ability to hold the ball up (sometimes) will provide an outlet to release the pressure Roma will put us under.
The rest of the side picks itself, on Wenger’s past form and selections and the only question really is whether Abou Diaby or Alex Song will join Denilson in midfield. Wenger’s battle-cry suggests the offensively-minded Diaby will get the nod.
I doubt Theo Walcott or Eduardo will start and I hope we don’t have to rely on them to save a game that is ours to win.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!
Sagna Toure Gallas Clichy
Eboue Denilson Diaby Nasri