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Van Persie strikes as Arsenal reel in Roma

Arsenal FC 1-0 AS Roma
Robin van Persie scored the only goal from the penalty spot in the first half to leave the 2006 finalists on top in the tie ahead of the return in Rome.

Robin van Persie celebrates dispatching his penalty
Robin van Persie celebrates dispatching his penalty ©Getty Images

Arsenal FC hold the advantage at the midway point of their last-16 tie with AS Roma after Robin van Persie's first-half penalty inflicted another dose of travel sickness on the Serie A side. Roma have now suffered six successive defeats on English soil although they may feel relieved to have lost by just the one goal given the clear chances that Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboué missed in the second half to extend the Gunners' lead.

Arsenal probing
After a frustrating run of results in the Premier League, Arsène Wenger was hoping this tie would bring the best out of his Arsenal players and they certainly started on the front foot. After six minutes Samir Nasri's cross provided Bendtner with a shooting opportunity but the Danish forward's heavy first touch took the ball away from him allowing Marco Motta to make the block. Nasri then got his head to a Gaël Clichy centre from the left but failed to direct the ball goalwards. Arsenal kept probing and Van Persie came close when latching on to Abou Diaby's ball over the top only for Doni to save at his feet.

Motta denied
Injuries had forced Roma coach Luciano Spalletti to field two defenders with only two UEFA Champions League appearances between them. Yet this pair, right-back Motta and centre-back Simone Loria, both came close to scoring in the opening quarter. In the 17th minute, Motta surged forward down the inside-right channel and unleashed a rising drive that Manuel Almunia did superbly to tip over at full stretch. Loria then volleyed over from close range after Francesco Totti's free-kick had picked him out unmarked.

Van Persie strikes
Roma paid for those misses when Arsenal grabbed the lead through Van Persie's 37th-minute spot-kick. The Dutchman went to ground under a challenge from Philippe Mèxes and, after referee Claus Bo Larsen pointed to the spot, he duly lashed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner. The hosts nearly doubled their lead moments later as Van Persie broke to the byline and crossed to Bendtner but Motta intercepted.

Golden opportunity
Bizarrely, Arsenal defenders Kolo Touré and William Gallas both missed the restart but Arsenal were soon back in their stride and Bendtner spurned a golden chance eight minutes after the break, slicing the ball high and wide with just Doni to beat after Rodrigo Taddei had inadvertently teed him up when sticking in a foot to thwart Van Persie. Doni then came to his side's rescue with a fine low save from Diaby and the travelling Roma supporters were left sighing with relief again in the 66th minute when Loria's slip let in the lively Eboué. The Ivorian looked certain to score only to fire into the sidenetting.

De Rossi ban
By this point, David Pizarro had come on for Matteo Brighi, the Chilean joining Daniele De Rossi in the middle as Spalletti looked for his team to make better use of the ball. John Arne Riise flashed a left-footed drive centimetres wide but Roma remained largely on the back foot and their prospects are not helped by De Rossi's suspension for the second leg on 11 March after he collected his third yellow card of the competition.