With three quality strikes from Thierry Henry at the Stadio Olimpico, Arsenal FC showed AS Roma what they cannot afford to be without at this stage of the UEFA Champions League - a prolific striker capable of punishing the tightest defences.
"Henry had a exceptional night with three different, but three great goals," Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said. "But it was also an exceptional team performance. We have a great squad and I wouldn't change any of them."
Henry on top form
The French international's run of domestic form continued with a crisply struck sixth-minute goal which capped a fast counterattack mounted while Roma were still celebrating Antonio Cassano's opener two minutes earlier. With the game poised in the second half, a close-range shot followed by a 75th minute free-kick which left Roma keeper Francesco Antonioli standing showed Henry at the top of his form. "
Thankfully we had Thierry today who changed the course of the game," Arsenal goalkeeper Rami Shaaban, standing in again for the injured David Seaman, said.
Cygan to the rescue
With the Champions League's two meanest defences breached as spectators were still finding their seats, the first half continued at high intensity. Arsenal's Gilberto and Patrick Vieira held fort in midfield, Ashley Cole attacked up the left and Henry looked dangerously lively, while Roma relied on Cafu's powerful runs down the right and long balls up to Francesco Totti and Cassano. Christian Panucci's strong run and shot on 26 minutes heralded the start of a Roma fightback culminating in Totti's chest down and fierce volley on 28 minutes which was blocked on the line by Pascal Cygan.
But Arsenal's watertight offside trap began to tell and Totti's temperament showed as he led a series of protests against raised flags, shaking the confidence of his team. "Cafu, Totti, and Cassano looked dangerous, but we kept the ball and played them offside," Wenger said. "Cygan blocked a goal on the line at a very important moment at which the game could have gone either way."
Roma's protests continued on 63 minutes when substitute Gianni Giugou tumbled under the challenge of Shaaban as he bore down on goal, but Roma's chances were undone by the kind of defensive mix-up that has seen them concede 19 goals in eleven Serie A games this season, Henry pouncing on a loose ball to rifle Arsenal ahead.
'Best in Europe'
We played well but we wasted opportunities, just as we have been doing in the Italian league, and the second goal ended that spell. With Arsenal, as with all great teams, they punish you for every mistake," Roma coach Fabio Capello said. "Arsenal are a very well organised squad full of top players, and as I have said, they are the best side in Europe in the moment."
Henry's third goal, a sweetly struck free-kick-five minutes later, ended Roma's night, despite a flurry of late, desperate crosses. "In the second half we dominated with 60 per cent of the possession and we just had to find the way to get behind their defence," Wenger said. "We are in a strong position now, but every game in this round will be massive."
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