Italy v England: Arsenal & Roma - Idealistic Twins Blinded By Reality

Of all the mouth-watering Anglo-Italian ties in the Champions League last-16, there is one that stands out for the purists.’s Gil Gillespie believes that the Giallorossi and the Gunners share a similar footballing aesthetic.

We are living in an age of pragmatism and muscularity. 21st Century footballers are not just fit, they are super-fit. Midfields are packed with fast, athletic, powerful ball-snatchers. The margins between the teams that make up the European elite are slim and getting slimmer. Superstar strikers are relied upon to snatch vital goals out of virtually nothing. Passing the ball often seems like a luxury most teams can't really afford.

Winning must happen at any cost.

Yet among all the powerhouses that make up the last 16 of the Champions League are two teams whose financial status and on-the-pitch methodology fly in the face of modern football's dominant philosophical template.

Arsenal and Roma are built on a belief that style is sometimes better than substance, beauty is always a better option than beast and knocking the ball around patiently for ten minutes is infinitely preferable to thumping long, high, hopeful punts in the general direction of your head-the-ball centre-forward.

Even the most cynical of football pundits must admit that Luciano Spalletti and Arsene Wenger share an approach to their clubs and the game in general that borders on the idealistic.

Their unwavering belief in attacking football comes from the heart, as well as the head. And yet both managers have, in many ways, also been victims of circumstance.

Wenger has been forced to compete in the richest league in the world on a seriously limited budget and with a wage ceiling hanging over his head. He has discovered, nurtured and kept faith with young, unproven talent not only because this is his preferred way of doing things but because he has had no choice.

Similarly, his Italian counterpart inherited a team in 2005 who were strapped for cash, short of squad players and without a recognised striker. The all-passing, all-moving, ultra-fluid tactics he employed were as much about making the most of limited resources as a desire to please the eyes of the fans.

The club had accumulated debts of over 60 million euros and had just been handed a one-year ban preventing them from signing any new players following the controversial transfer of Philippe Mexes.

With his hands tied both financially and tactically, Spalletti introduced a new 4-2-3-1 system that uses two of Roma's most skilful players in the centre of midfield alongside two pacy wingers and sometimes even dispenses with the need for an out-and-out striker. Spalletti's unique approach even requires the central defenders to be attack-minded.

Roma may be even more inconsistent this season than they have been in the previous two or three, but they can still play some of the most seductive, free-flowing football on the continent. When they catch fire, they can be quite simply irresistible.

Still led by their talismanic skipper, Francesco Totti, Roma attack in waves and sometimes defend like they've just been hit by one.

Midfielders Simone Perrotta and David Pizarro are encouraged to overlap their strikers, the superb Daniele De Rossi loves to hit from distance and break late into the box, left wing can become right, Juan can become a six-yard predator and Totti pretty much does whatever he likes.

Roma are a nightmare to mark because it's impossible to fit their tactical approach in one simple diagram on a chalkboard. At their best they can be impossible to play against.

But when Spalletti's daring take on Total Football doesn't work, his side can fall apart, just like they did in the 3-0 demolition by Atalanta a week or so ago.

And the same can now be said for Arsenal.

Ever since Arsene Wenger has been without his two World Cup winning Frenchmen, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, the Gunners have been a very different proposition. Losing Gilberto Silva, Lassana Diarra and Mathieu Flamini last year merely exacerbated the situation.

But resisting calls from some sections of The Emirates Stadium and the media to employ a more direct tactical approach, Wenger has bravely stuck to his way of doing things despite being without the most important piece in his jigsaw, Cesc Fabregas, for a large part of the season.

Like Roma, Arsenal are vulnerable. And beatable.

But, as if the Champions League fixture between these two Don Quixote's of European football wasn't mouth-watering enough, Arsenal wide man Samir Nasri made the possibility of this being the most beautiful game of the season even more likely when he stated:

"Arsenal like to play football so when we play against a skilful team who also like to come out and play it is easier to play because there is more space to exploit."

Unlike the last time Arsenal met Fabio Capello's Roma in the Champions League of 2002-03, space is something they will get in abundance.

Trying to choose who will progress into the quarter-finals of the tournament is an impossible task. But can either of these teams go much further in the competition? Can either of them go all the way? It's unlikely.

But, despite their poor recent form, Roma are desperate to do the impossible and reach a Champions League final and genuinely believe they can do it. No-one should write them off.

Arsenal, for their part, suddenly seem to have many more player options with the arrival of Andrey Arshavin, the possible returns of Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott, and the on-hold comeback of Eduardo boosting their chances of finishing the year more positively than they started it.

Technique, vision, passing and movement will be the order of the day on 24 February in London and for the return leg in Rome on 11 March.

It is unlikely that this particular Champions league tie will be decided by a scruffy last minute scramble in the six-yard box.

But you never know.

Gil Gillespie,