Arsenal 1-0 Roma
By Saj Chowdhury
Van Persie was a major nuisance for the Roma defence
A first-half penalty from Robin van Persie gave Arsenal a narrow lead going into the away leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Roma.
Arsenal were the better team over the 90 minutes, taking a deserved lead when Van Persie was fouled by Philippe Mexes and then fired in low from the spot.
Fellow striker Nicklas Bendtner struck over from eight yards, while Emmanuel Eboue sent his shot inches wide.
Marco Motta went close for Roma but his 25-yarder was saved by Manuel Almunia.
Apart from that and a John Arne Riise shot that fizzed past the Arsenal upright, the team from Italy’s capital did little to excite their band of supporters at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger’s side dominated for large periods, created many chances and should have added a couple more to Van Persie’s solitary effort. Nevertheless, it was a vast improvement on Arsenal displays of recent weeks.
The key to their success on the night came in the form of the trio in attack – Bendtner, Samir Nasri and Van Persie.
None of the three occupied the conventional positions up front which confused Roma’s backline from the whistle.
Bendtner largely played on the left but that did not stop him from bulldozing into the area whenever he saw the defensive door left ajar.
His forays almost paid big dividends on a handful of occasions.
The lanky Dane’s first effort suffered as a result of mis-control from Nasri’s fine ball into the area, a good block inside the six-yard area then denied him a second bite before he smashed wildly over the bar from eight yards after the break.
One man who was more proficient in front of goal, when it mattered, was Van Persie.
The Dutchman’s penalty strike came just before the interval, won when he was tripped by Mexes after being played into the area.
Van Persie’s low, driven spot-kick gave Doni no hope in the Roma goal.
Arsenal had numerous chances to extend their lead in the second half.
Apart from Bendtner’s wasted effort, Abou Diaby had a wonderful low strike tipped around the post by the agile Doni before Eboue flashed wide after pouncing on a mistake by Simone Loria.
Roma, who have only won one of their previous 15 games away to English sides, were a better proposition in the second half but provided little threat in attack, with Francesco Totti and Julio Baptista disappointing.
Wenger brought on Mexican left-sided forward Carlos Vela and Welsh youngster Aaron Ramsey in the hope that they could give his side a little bit more to play with at the Stadio Olimpico, but it remained at 1-0 with the promise of a nail-biting second leg.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue (Ramsey 82), Denilson, Diaby (Song Billong 62), Nasri, Van Persie, Bendtner (Vela 67).
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Djourou, Gibbs, Merida.
Booked: Toure, Nasri.
Goals: Van Persie 37 pen.
Roma: Doni, Motta, Mexes, Loria (Diamoutene 71), Riise, Perrotta, De Rossi, Brighi (Pizarro 56), Taddei, Julio Baptista (Vucinic 82), Totti.
Subs Not Used: Artur, Ribeiro, Tonetto, Montella.
Booked: Mexes, Brighi, De Rossi.
Ref: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Arsenal’s Samir Nasri 8.22 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport’s Player Rater after the match has finished.