By Richard Clarke
Francesco Totti is Roma.
He has spent 16 years in the first team for the Giallorossi amassing 528 games and 213 goals. The 32-year-old is their record-scorer, their most-capped player and, according to Arsène Wenger, will be their “most dangerous provider” when the Italian side visit Emirates Stadium in the Champions League Knockout Round first leg on Tuesday.
Of course Arsenal fans should be Europe’s least ageist football fans when it comes to forward players. The powers of striker Dennis Bergkamp scarcely waned before he retired in 2006 at the age of 37. However while the Dutchman started off as a striker and moved back as his career went on, Totti has successfully made the opposite move in recent years.
It is a much harder trick to pull off and, for Wenger, it is a measure of his greatness.
“Totti is a top, top class player,” said Wenger. “He is typical of the Roman game and I’m sure he will never move outside of Roma.
“He used to play in behind the strikers and then one day they had no central striker so they played him up front and won game after game. He suddenly became the topscorer in Italy as a central striker. That means this guy has absolutely everything.
“He has a fantastic protection of the ball, he has a quick turn and then he has a very good pass in the final third of the pitch. He can be deadly with every single pass.
“He will certainly be the most dangerous provider in the final third for them in this game. He is not the only player who can be dangerous but he can open the defence with any pass at any moment of the day if you give him the freedom.”
So, surely, a major task of the night will be to stop him enjoying that liberty. However, it is not Wenger’s way to employ a man-marker.
“Not really no,” agreed the manager. “But you know that Totti will be the anchor man of every single pass that comes out through the back.
“So that gives you two options - either drop off completely or you try to get in front of him before he gets the ball. Now, we do not want Totti to get on the ball. We need to get in front of him, so he will not go behind us.
“But there is a way to win the ball in midfield and that will be very important to us in this game.”Copyright 2014 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 24 Feb 2009