thumbnail Hello,

Goal.com's Alan Dawson takes a look at which footballers could play a significant part in the first leg of the round of 16 clash between Premier League representative Arsenal and Serie A side Roma....

Julio Baptista - William Gallas

Despite their relentless shedding of a plethora of points, Arsenal remain unbeaten in 13 games and have kept seven clean sheets during that time. Their tactical nous when in the defensive regions has shown marked improvements since the season's inception, when their frailties from set pieces were exposed and the rearguard continued to be caught out due to both a high line and the large gaps between the centre-backs.

The Gunners' rearguard has managed to suitably stifle route-one balls in the Premier League, despite the only defender who is above 6'0'' being Johan Djourou. However, Gallas will have to draw on all the battling qualities instilled in him during his time at Chelsea in order to try to counter the physical presence of Roma forwards such as Mirko Vucinic and, in particular, Julio Baptista.

Marco Motta
- Gael Clichy

One of the early season accolades slung Arsenal's way during August and September was borne from the formidable understanding that Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri had built up down the club's left flank - it was reminiscent of the telepathic link-up play enjoyed by former sons Ashley Cole and Robert Pires, some commentators claimed.

Nasri has proven to be more effective in the middle of late and, with Andrey Arshavin cup-tied, the Frenchman could be a formidable option in order to ensure that Daniele de Rossi earns his pay. That leaves the attacking burden down to the bombarding runs of Clichy, and he will no doubt be acquainted and re-acquainted with Marco Motta at many stages throughout the first leg.

Motta has been solid and dependable of late, is letting little past him, and proved this much versus Siena on Saturday.

Francesco Totti - Denilson


There was growing trepidation in the Roman camp that their notoriously loyal trequartista would be sidelined for the clash against Arsenal in Europe. Now that it is a near-certainty that Totti will feature, Arsene Wenger will have to mull over how he plans on neutralising the No. 10's orchestration of affairs.

One option would be to have one of the central players in midfield get tight to him, or even attempt to cut off the supply to him while the back line concentrates on clearing up any through balls that could fine their way through to Vucinic and Baptista.

Arsene Wenger has already stated that if you lose the midfield battle against Roma then you will likely face an early exit from the competition, "When you play against Roma there is one battle you cannot lose and that is in midfield as that is their strong point. They play with a congested midfield and with a lot of short passing on the ground. If you lose that battle you will be second best."

In a bid to combat this, the French boss has already cited Denilson as the man who will steady Arsenal's ship. He has started more games than any other Gunner this campaign and, perhaps tellingly, his ball-winning capabilities and physicality are only lauded by those inside Arsenal. If Roma utilise the famed 4-6-0 then Arsenal's midfield will have to focus on their defensive duties by tracking runners and eyeing play.

Max Tonetto - Bacary Sagna

In the absence of John Arne Riise, Max Tonetto will continue to deputise. Like the full-backs that Wenger enjoys coaching, Tonetto is equally as comfortable starting a game from deep and running the lines in order to supplement his attack.

While his defensive instincts have been sound, he is - at 34-years-old - not as dynamic going forward. It is, therefore, likely that these two will meet in Tonetto's defensive zone, where Sagna and Eboue (should the Ivorian start on the right) will overlap effectively and swoop in box-bound crosses to incoming forwards.

Tonetto's positional awareness will have to be astute as Eboue and Sagna are both on form; either Red could suck the Italian toward him while the other sneaks in to get ahead.

Phillipe Mexes/ Juan
- Robin van Persie

The reason Andrey Arshavin was signed was to help relieve the creative burden off of the shoulders of Dutch international Robin van Persie. However, with the Russian playmaker ineligible in Champions League due to his earlier appearances with former club Zenit, the onus of incisive attacking style and substance will again be the responsibility of one of the club's elder statesmen.

Mexes and Juan are both proven defenders at the top level but the Serie A giant's defence has thus far leaked 31 goals in 25 games, something Arsenal could be ready to exploit, especially with the home comforts of the first leg. Trouble is, the Gunners have misfired and failed to register a goal now in each of their last three fixtures...

Alan Dawson, Goal.com

Related

From the web