By Chris Harris
There were suggestion in some quarters that Roma underestimated Arsenal in London last month. The Giallorossi have a chance to make amends tonight.
Roma can count themselves lucky to have just a one-goal deficit to bridge at the Stadio Olimpico but they will have to pull off the perfect Champions League balancing act to advance in the competition. The Italians must score, but they dare not concede.
What's more, that mission must be accomplished without the influential Daniele De Rossi - suspended after a booking at Emirates Stadium - and the injured Marco Cassetti, Simone Perrotta and Cicinho. Alberto Aquilani, David Pizarro and Francesco Totti face late fitness tests, with the latter expected to start on the bench.
We caught up with Alessandro Austini of Il Tempo for an Italian perspective of this perfectly-poised Champions League tie. Read on for his take on the first leg, what impressed him about Arsenal, Roma's tactical approach at the Stadio Olimpico and the absence of De Rossi.
Alessandro, what did you make of the first leg in London?
"I think that Arsenal scored one goal but they could have scored more. They had some big opportunities to score in London and Roma hope that they can get their chances in Rome. In the first leg Arsenal were wonderful and Luciano Spalletti never expected to face a team like the one we admired in London."
What impressed you about Arsenal?
"Some players were very hard to stop, like Nasri and Van Persie. I had never seen Diaby play so well, I think he’s a great player and he reminds me of Patrick Vieira who Arsenal fans will remember very well. There were some players who were very fast with good technique and they look like a team who could go to the Final."
Were Roma below their best at Emirates Stadium?
"In London you didn’t see the real Roma. But on Wednesday night there are too many Roma players in bad condition and there is no Daniele de Rossi who is suspended. Arsenal have a big chance and they’re lucky to face Roma in very bad condition."
How much will Roma miss De Rossi?
"They will miss him a lot because he is Roma’s best player at the moment. He is sometimes more a defender than the backline and he has a great tactical awareness that is very important to the Roma team. Arsenal can play without Fabregas but Roma cannot play without De Rossi.
What did Spalletti say at his pre-match press conference?
"Spalletti has a lot of doubt about the 11 players he will choose so the conference was more about the injury problems. He said something he has never said before: 'I don’t want to play well, the beautiful game doesn’t interest me, but I want to win'."
Who else is missing for Roma?
"Aquilani, Cicinho and Perrotta are all missing, maybe too Francesco Totti who might only start on the bench. Totti has a problem with his leg and he missed the last game at home against Udinese and the game in Milan. He has had a lot of injury problems this season after the terrible accident he had last year. He is not in good condition and Spalletti won’t want to play two or three players who aren’t fully fit. If Totti starts on the bench then Baptista will play alongside Vucinic."
Tell us about Murko Vucinic. How important is he to Roma?
"Vucinic is a player who often does well on the Champions League nights. He scores a lot of goals, last year he scored in Madrid to put Roma into the Quarter Finals. He has a fast technique and maybe he is the main danger to Arsenal."
How do you expect Roma to approach the game?
"I don’t think they will try to go straight for Almunia in the first minute. I think they will wait and play the game with passion like they did in the last stage against Bordeaux. I don’t think Roma will attack early because they are frightened of Arsenal’s speed. Spalletti said on Tuesday that the Roma defenders have to pay special attention to the speed of Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna who will get forward down the sides."
Does Roma's entire season rest on tonight's game?
"Yes, the whole season rests on this game because Roma won’t win the Italian Cup so they must get into the top four in the league. This is the game of the season."
Finally Alessandro, what is your score prediction?
"Before the match in London I said that Roma can do their job but this time I think that Arsenal are in a good condition to win and go through to the Quarter Final."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source