Arsenal (1) 1 - 1 (1) Roma|
Highbury, Tuesday 11th March 2003
UEFA Champs League, stage 2 match 5
The group is still wide open following this nervy draw.
Arsenal took the lead thanks to a Vieira header from a corner.
We'd won the corner from looked to me like a dodgy free-kick
decision in our favour, won by Henry just outside the box on the left. A
defender headed Henry's free-kick out for a corner. When Gio's corner reached the middle of the box, Vieira rose unmarked to
head it past the lanky keeper.
The keeper flapped a bit at times, but made some good saves too. He did both in the space of a few seconds not long after the opener, when he fluffed a catch only to recover and make a
great save low to his right when the ball came back into the box and Vieira once again got his head to it.
Roma had Totti sent off after about 20 minutes. There had been a bit of argy-bargy between him and Keown just before, so much so that the ref had to speak to them. Then when a high ball forward came towards the pair of them Keown went down clutching his head and the ref showed the red card, appearing to indicate the use of an arm by the Roma captain. It was up the other end of the pitch so I didn't get a good view. But I'm told that the replays
showed very little contact, Totti did lead with his arm but
only really brushed Keown's face with his palm, if that.
As so often seems to happen, facing a depleted opposition did Arsenal little in the way of favours. When teams react, understandably, by defending in depth, there just isn't the space in the final third that Arsenal like to play in. A win was more important to Roma than to us, so maybe they'd have come forward more, and left more spaces, if they'd had a full complement. Having said that, the way they were breaking in the
second half, perhaps we should be grateful they didn't do it more.
Roma equalised just before the break when our defence was caught
sleeping on a lob forward. I'm not sure if it was Cygan or Keown
who was caught out but I could hazard a guess. Cassano had
plenty of space to run at and though Seaman came out quickly he couldn't quite get there in time. The striker rounded him and
slipped it into the empty net.
Can't help feeling it wouldn't have happened if Campbell had been there. Apart from Cygan for Sol there were no surprises.
Bergkamp was involved a lot but most of his crafty passes just didn't quite work. We have to assume that he won't be in Spain next week. Wenger brought Jeffers and Freddie on in the second half but Roma were posing enough of a threat on the break that
it was attacking players that came off. It wasn't till the dying minutes that we tried a more attacking change, Kanu on for Lauren.
In the second half you'd hardly know they had fewer men on the pitch, and like I said before, they were scary on the break.
We had some good chances, Wiltord missing the best of them but
others being wasteful too. Some great approach play but the finishing kept being high and wide. And at times we just tried to be too clever.
But the best chance to win the game fell to the Roma sub Montella.
He'd been making some terrific solo breaks, and several times it was his teammates who reacted quickest in joining him and outnumbering our defence. But the clear chance came from a Cafu run down their right (they'd obviously targeted Gio as a
weak spot defensively) and a fantastic cross which Montella
should have got on target with a clear header.
So once again the pressure of a big European game seemed to get to Arsenal. If we do go through to the knockout stage, we're going to have to start
taking advantage of our periods of dominance at Highbury. It's been a frustrating European campaign, but I think it has to be recognised that this has been a very tough group indeed, and to get through it would be a great achievement.
Valencia managed a draw in Amsterdam. See table. All this means that a draw in Valencia would see Arsenal through, but it would not be enough for Valencia. If we lose to Valencia we could still go through, but only if Roma beat Ajax (in Rome).
If that happens then Arsenal Roma and Ajax would all be on 7 points but Arsenal would win the "mini-league" formed by those 3 teams and go through in second place (behind Valencia). That makes it
sound like Roma don't have an incentive to beat Ajax but in fact they do. If Roma beat Ajax and our match is a draw, they would be level on points with both Valencia and Ajax but beat them in the 3 team mini-league. And if Arsenal beat Valencia and Roma win by more than 1 goal (or even by 1 goal to nil), then Roma would go through in second because they'd beat Ajax on the head-to-head.
In fact, any 2 of the 4 teams in our group could still go through. This is all making my head hurt, so I'll leave you to work out the rest of the details....
It's also worth pointing out than there is a rose-tinted glasses perspective of tonight's result which actually means that the draw might turn out to have been better than a win! The reason is that even if we'd won, we'd have needed a point from next week's game to be sure of going through, just like we do now.
And if we had won, Roma would have had nothing to play for against Ajax next week.
Of course, it's also true that Valencia need to win.
Incidentally, the rumours that Vaelncia were going to get the date of next week's match changed, have obviously come to nothing. We do recommend however that travelling Gooners read this story (and the preview page it links to) for information about the "Las Fallas" festival.