By Randy Osae
These are really cloudy times at Ashburton Grove.
Arsenal and especially Wenger’s dignity is facing some abatement – as you may reckon – but the veteran French tactician is not paddling with just one foot. League placement is not the only manner of hustling for a Champions League berth next term. Arsenal may have to win it to stay in it perhaps.
That implies that in the case of Wenger’s men ending up too feeble for a top four return on league standings come May, the Gunners will have to work the phenomenon of conquering Europe this season.
It is that one elusive prize; as the manager’s curriculum vitae and the club’s entire history will attest.
But within them, the Gunners fancy this time must be it. Tuesday night will see AS Roma in the English capital for a first-leg tie of the last 16 phase of the competition. Arsenal’s habit of 0-0 draws has barely had bliss. But emulating how they kept those clean sheets will certainly pay dividends in this delicate two-leg contest with Roma.
The Italians intend to startle Wenger’s men with the likes of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and former Gunner Julio Baptista – who have all given brave foresights on their to trip to the Emirates Stadium.
That cheeky attitude of Luciano Spalletti’s side are shades of another ‘Italian job’ Arsenal rendered nearly a year ago. AC Milan had been idealistic victors ahead of the two legs, but what actually transpired is history.
Indeed, Arsenal have often come good against Italian opposition – with Inter Milan, AC Milan and Roma themselves all succumbing to the Gunners in the past.
Even so, Arsene Wenger will much prefer his side being second favorites in this tense tie…just not second best.
Only Diaby returns from injury, Andrey Arshavin is cup-tied of course and Robin van Persie will play with caution on Tuesday night. The Dutchman is one yellow card shy of an automatic suspension.