Premier League representatives Arsenal take on Serie A side Roma in the first of three bouts of Anglo-Italian competition in the Champions League...
Kick Off: Tuesday February 24, 19.45 GMT
Ashburton Grove, London, N5
Ashburton Grove, London, N5
The hype has been phenomenal and there were even questions raised over how all three Italian sides in the Champions League could have randomly been pitted against those flying the flag for the English, especially when one considers the fierce competition between the two nations as to whom can claim the label of the "best league in the World."
Will Tuesday's game give an indication over which division has the edge? Probably not, but it will no doubt provide many talking points whether it will be their similar romantic ethos on how the beautiful game should be played, or how they have over-performed of late considering the limited funds each has existed on while the heavier-weights of their respective leagues throw their moolah around like a rapper makes it rain.
England and Italy have had their fair share of battles throughout their history, but the most notable of all in a football context was the "Battle of Highbury" in November 1934. The international match was infamous for it's violent manner, but 75 years on nothing could be farther from the truth as Arsenal and Roma both insist on exerting a fluid passing style onto the other.
AS Roma may have been trying to trick Arsenal into a false sense of security with the news that influential trequartista Francesco Totti will be omitted from the starting line-up on Tuesday evening's fixture, as the playmaker's presence is expected to be there from the off.
Arsenal will be welcoming one of their own players to the fold, but unfortunately for Gunners fans it is not key quarterback Francesc Fabregas, neither is it Togolese targetman Emmanuel Adebayor (who built up a prolific partnership with Robin van Persie at the year's turn); Theo Walcott too could have injected some much needed pace on the right flank, but remains sidelined.
Viewpoints may be polarised with the news that the player returning is Abou Diaby, but anyone who can bolster an otherwise lightweight midfield will surely be welcomed by the Red and White army.
The midfield is one where AS Roma will thrive. Daniele De Rossi in particular, if he is on form, can dominate a midfield by himself, and has borne comparisons to a combination of Steven Gerrard and Michael Essien.
Arsene Wenger has claimed that Denilson will be a key player for the Ashburton Grove outfit, but hold your laughs... when Denilson and Alexandre Song have been up against the Premier League's big dogs they have refused to be bitten, and have themselves been the one to inflict the bigger barking.
If Arsenal are to get anything from this round - both legs included - a rigourous containment of their midfield runners is a must. A clean sheet is a mandatory requirement for their home tie, so for the second leg, and in a similar vein to Arsenal's San Siro win against AC Milan at the same stage last season, an away goal (or two) could go a long way in ensuring progression.
21 Feb 09 Siena (H) WON 1-0 (Serie A)
15 Feb 09 Atalanta (A) LOST 3-0 (Serie A)
08 Feb 09 Genoa (H) WON 3-0 (Serie A)
01 Feb 09 Reggina (A) DREW 2-2 (Serie A)
28 Jan 09 Palermo (H) WON 2-1 (Serie A)
21 Feb 09 Sunderland (H) DREW 0-0 (Prem)
16 Feb 09 Cardiff (H) WON 4-0 (FA Cup)
08 Feb 09 Tottenham (A) DREW 0-0 (Prem)
31 Jan 09 West Ham (H) DREW 0-0 (Prem)
28 Jan 09 Everton (A) DREW 1-1 (Prem)
Francesco Totti's earlier declaration that he wasn't fit to play was a fairly amusing prank, but what is not a laughing matter is the case of Juan: the centre-back remains a heavy doubt for this fixture. Cicinho, though, is likely to recover to line up at right-back.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Doni; Cicinho, Mexes, Diamoutene (Juan), Riise; Brighi, De Rossi, Taddei; Perrotta; Totti, Baptista.
Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott, Eduardo da Silva, and Emmanuel Adebayor all form a part of Arsenal's injury troubles, while winter recruit Andrey Arshavin is cup-tied. Abou Diaby though has returned.
Probable Line-Up (4-4-1-1): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Song, Nasri; Diaby; van Persie.
PLAYER TO WATCH
If Roma get a positive result in north London then there it may go without saying that Daniele de Rossi will be a key player in the scoreline. Always keep an eye on a footballer returning to a former club, and Julio Baptista may be out on a personal mission to prove that he would have been good enough to have his loan spell at Arsenal extended. His sheer power and strength could prove problematic to the Gunners' rearguard.
None other than Robin van Persie. He has been Arsenal's most creative and most influential player for some time now, perhaps since Fabregas' injury in November. He is one of the few starters who can create a moment of magic out of nothing.
Arsenal 0-0 AS Roma
Alan Dawson, Goal.com
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