Gunners will face tough test against Roma

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta

One of the only positive aspects of Arsenal’s goalless draw with Sunderland on Saturday was Andrey Arshavin’s impressive hour-long debut, but he won’t feature against Roma tomorrow night.

Saturday’s draw marked the Gunner’s third league stalemate in a row, and fourth draw. Robin van Persie’s stunning last-gasp equaliser against Everton 27 days ago is now just a faint memory for Arsenal fans and despite the impressive 4-0 demolishing of Cardiff City in the FA Cup last Monday, the goals have simply dried up in the league for the Gunners.

Arsenal are clearly desperately missing the creative spark of Cesc Fabregas in central midfield, and coupled with the sale of Mathieu Flamini to AC Milan over the summer, the Gunners have been left seriously short of talent in the middle of the park.

What will frustrate Arsenal fans most about Saturday’s result is the fact that Chelsea won at Aston Villa, meaning that Arsene Wenger’s side could have closed the gap with Martin O’Neill’s Villa to four points – instead it remains a significant six.

Tomorrow, Wenger expects Roma, who have already beaten Chelsea in the group stages, to try and catch the Gunners on the break: “I don’t believe Roma will come for a goalless draw,” he said.

“They will play in an Italian way, catch us on the break because they know an away goal will give them a good chance. Of course they will try to find Totti and give us a problem.”

It’s not just Francesco Totti’s attacking threat that Wenger will be wary of. Former Gunner Julio Baptista has fitted nicely into the Giallineri’s line-up and the Brazilian has been in good form of late, netting eight times in 20 appearances.

Roma, coached by 49-year-old Luciano Spalletti, edged out Siena 1-0 at home on Saturday in an important win to bounce back from a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Atalanta a week earlier. Although they currently sit in sixth place in the Italian league, only five points separate them from AC Milan in third.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s clash in London, Spalletti is quick to praise the north London club. “I have to compliment Arsenal for the policy they have,” said the Roma boss.

“They are very strong at world level and they have strong substitutes. They have very talented youngsters and I am sure they will become great champions.”

He also spoke of his delight when Roma were drawn against Arsene Wenger’s side back in December. “I don’t believe we have been unfortunate in the draw,” he said. “I think it has gone very well. It’s easy to say that we should accept any rival but now that we have a strong rival and we have to show our value.

“Therefore, we should speak less and be ready to make a sacrifice because they [Arsenal] are a great team.”

Arsenal’s newest recruit Andrey Arshavin is ineligible for the tie after having already featured in the competition this season for Zenit St Petersburg.

The Gunners will also be without Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott and Eduardo – who picked up a hamstring injury during his return to first team action against Cardiff City. Abou Diaby, however, will be available after recovering from a thigh injury.

Francesco Totti, who has only recently returned to action following a spell on the sidelines, didn’t look to be fully match fit in Saturday’s victory at the Stadio Olimpico, but Spalletti was quick jump to his defence. “He didn’t have a great performance, but he worked hard and fought for the team.”

Roma will also be boosted by the news that Cicinho’s injury against Siena is not as serious as first thought and fellow Brazilian Juan will also be fit to feature at the Emirates.

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