Arsène Wenger is hopeful that his Arsenal FC side will put their stuttering home form behind them and use their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie against Italy's AS Roma as a launch pad for a strong finish to the season.
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Arsène Wenger is hoping his Arsenal FC side will put their stuttering home form behind them and use their UEFA Champions League tie with AS Roma as a launch pad for a strong finish to the season.
The Gunners' 0-0 stalemate with Sunderland AFC on Saturday was their fifth draw in six matches – and fourth blank during the sequence. Yet Wenger wants the challenge of bettering Luciano Spalletti's visitors to bring out the best in his men. "It is a very important game," said the Arsenal manager. "At the moment I feel the team is in a period where a big victory can give them the needed lift in confidence. There is a lot of quality coming out of this team, they have developed mentally but are still lacking a bit of spark to really take off. It is down to us now to take the handbrake off and go into the end of the season with complete belief."
Arsenal have won five of their six previous two-legged ties against Italian opposition yet enter this contest hindered by an injury list that includes Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo da Silva, Cesc Fàbregas, and Theo Walcott – players who provide much of their attacking edge. While new signing Andrei Arshavin is cup-tied, Wenger can recall the fit-again Abou Diaby to his midfield and his instructions will be to "go for it". After complaining about Sunderland's defensive tactics last weekend, he is relishing the prospect of a more open contest. "Usually the Champions League is more enjoyable and also more difficult – you play more on the edge and if you make a mistake the opponent will take advantage." There are few better at that than Francesco Totti, as Wenger warned: "He can open a defence with any pass at any moment if you give him the necessary freedom."
Call for confidence
Wenger may get his wish of an open game, with Roma coach Spalletti undaunted by Arsenal's 22-match unbeaten European home run and stressing that his players "should use the same approach whether they are playing home or away". "We have to have self-belief and be strong, that is important – we have to be confident to face any team, even if it is Arsenal," he said. Although Roma have lost just twice in ten outings this calendar year, their record in England does not augur well. They have won only one of 12 games here and lost the last five, including a 1-0 reverse across London at Chelsea FC in October. Yet they subsequently beat Chelsea in Rome and Spalletti said: "We've won against English teams. The character [my players] have shown on several occasions against this kind of opponent gives me confidence that sooner or later we will win here as well."
The Giallorossi are almost certainly missing injured pair Juan and Mirko Vučinić, while Cicinho failed to complete training on Monday evening, as did Totti who has since been passed fit. Cicinho is a major doubt, and while Italy Under-21 captain Marco Motta would be a like-for-like replacement at right-back, either alternative to centre-back Juan represents a gamble: Simone Loria made a costly mistake on his sole appearance of 2009, at Reggina Calcio, and has featured just once before in the UEFA Champions League; Souleymane Diamoutene only made his debut in Saturday's 1-0 win over AC Siena.