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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Roma 1-0 Arsenal (6-7 on pens)

(Juan, 9)

We've always known that Arsenal's kids are talented. Now we know that they're brave as well. After an energy-sapping 120 minutes in the Stadio Olimpico, 111 of them played without their single goal safety net, they picked themselves up off the floor and held their nerve in a marathon penalty shoot-out. They even withstood the blow of seeing Eduardo miss his opening spot-kick, coming back to win 7-6 after poor Max Tonetto decided to lob his penalty into the upper tier.

It was a proud night for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in particular. He has always trumpeted the qualities of these players, standing up for them in press conferences, fielding them in spite of their unpopularity with the fans. He believes that their early exposure to top flight football will improve them as footballers and strengthen them as men and he will tell you that at some point in the near future, this Arsenal side will rear up and challenge for dominance once again.

"We showed tremendous mental strength to come back and win," Wenger told reporters afterwards. "I am so proud of that because that is a quality that has been questioned this season. You could see that we have improved tremendously in that regard. This result will improve our confidence."

It certainly will, as long as nobody focuses too closely on the performance that preceded it. A penalty shoot-out victory can hide a multitude of sins and Wenger will surely know that there is much to be improved here before the quarter-finals. Roma's opening goal came after a catastrophic breakdown in communications between William Gallas and Kolo Toure. When a ball is being played square across your six yard box, it needs to be punted towards the stars, not dismissed as someone else's responsibilty. It was a cheap way to lose the one goal cushion.

Set-pieces too, were an abomination. For all of Wenger's technical acumen, his team have a real problem threatening from corners and free-kicks. Too many were looped in at the back post so slowly that the Roman defence could sip a coffee and read the newspapers before heading the ball away to safety. Too many lacklustre free-kicks from the flanks were cleared without a problem. Imagine where Arsenal could be if they were as well-drilled as Aston Villa in this department.

Luciano Spalletti and the bulk of the 81,000 fans will argue passionately that they should have been awarded a penalty just before half-time, but if Marco Motta had concentrated as hard on his one-on-one with Manuel Almunia as he did on going to ground at the slighest touch from Gael Clichy, he might have scored anyway. Even so, Clichy was fortunate that the referee remained unswayed by the protests of the home side. Without the benefit of replays, it certainly looked like a penalty, and perhaps even a red card.

Fortune however, tends to favour the brave and you can't accuse Arsenal of being anything less than that. These young players should hold their heads high, especially the spirited souls who stood up to take their spot-kicks. Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure and Abou Diaby deserve special recognition for their composure in sudden death. Let no-one ever say that this Arsenal side is without character. They have won in Rome and they have won 'ugly', by never giving up and refusing to fold under the pressure. Whatever else happens this season, this might be one of the most important lessons that these young players learn.

MISS OF THE MATCH - How did Julio Baptista manage to miss his late chance? Completely clear in the penalty area, he slid on to Francesco Totti's ball and somehow managed to scuff it into the ground. Yet another reminder of why he didn't get a permanent contract at Arsenal.

BRAINS OF THE OPERATION - He wasn't even supposed to be on the pitch, but Totti was in inspired form. Playing through the pain barrier, he dropped deep and caused Arsenal all kinds of problems. Perhaps a little fortunate not to be punished for kicking out at Robin van Persie in the opening stages though.

HEARTBREAK - I suppose that if you're going to miss a vital penalty you may as well miss it in style. Max Tonetto really couldn't have put his spot-kick much higher if he'd tried, it was straight out of the Chris Waddle school. Tonetto must have gazed enviously at Matteo Brighi, substituted on the 120th minute and spared the humiliation of scuttling his own team from the spot.

PUNTERS RANT - Punters' rant? What about your bosses' rant? This one didn't finish until nearly 7am, so there will have been a lot of sleepy Gunners dozing off on the MRT yesterday morning. How many people were late for work through penalty-related delays?

MAN OF THE MATCH - Bacary Sagna was absolutely magnificent for Arsenal and he must now be cementing his reputation as one of the finest right-backs in Europe. He made two match-saving tackles, ran up and down the flank all night and was as cool as a cucumber with low-slung trousers and mirrored aviator shades when it came to his penalty.


Crowd - 81,000
Yellow Cards - Pizarro, Motta (Roma) Diaby (Arsenal)
Red Cards - None
Roma -
Doni 7, Juan 7 (Julio Baptista 5, 28th), Souleymane Diamoutene 7, John Arne Riise 8, Marco Motta 7, David Pizarro 7, Matteo Brighi 7(Vincenzo Montella 6, 120th), Max Tonetto 6, Rodrigo Taddei 7 (Alberto Aquilani, 6 90th), Francesco Totti 8, Mirko Vucinic 6
Arsenal -
Manuel Almunia 7, William Gallas 6, Kolo Toure 7, Gael Clichy 6, Bacary Sagna 9, Denilson 7, Abou Diaby 8, Robin van Persie 7, Samir Nasri 6, Nicklas Bendtner 6 (Eduardo 6, 85th), Emmanuel Eboue 6 (Theo Walcott 6, 74th)