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    AS Roma


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  • PPD






Highbury, England

Referee: Kim Nielsen | Attendance: 34793

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Arsenal 0-0 Valencia: Dour affair

Arsenal were left to face the prospect of their Champions League hopes again resting on a taxing trip to the imposing Mestalla stadium after a goalless draw with Valencia at Highbury.

The Gunners dominated proceedings against the highly-rated Spanish champions and will at least enter the new year top of their group with four points from their opening two games.

However, their gamble on Patrick Vieira's fitness failed, with their captain forced to limp off after just 37 minutes.

They were also up against 10 men for the last 18 minutes after Miguel Angel Angulo was sent off and yet they still failed to score for the second consecutive game - with Sylvain Wiltord wasting a glorious late chance.

As a result, it will take fine performances against Ajax - twice - and Roma at home to prevent the final group tie away to Valencia holding the key to their progression to the knock-out stages.

It was ever thus. For, two seasons ago, Arsenal travelled to the Mestalla seeking a draw to reach the semi-finals but were undone by John Carew's late header and went out on away goals.

Indeed, Valencia have held a powerful fix over English clubs, having also beaten Leeds that season in the last four and having overpowered Liverpool in both of their opening group meetings earlier this season.

Determined to recover from their defeat at Old Trafford, Arsenal began with at least one eye on containment, with the first half being a cagey affair in the bitterly cold conditions.

Vieira had been rated as having only a 40% chance of starting but, such is his influence on this Arsenal side, that Wenger took the calculated gamble on his captain.

The trouble was that Vieira was not only far from fully fit but it showed, with his distribution way below his normal high standard.

Then again, being out-tackled by Phil Neville must be a bitter pill to swallow and Vieira was this time up against another highly-charged competitor in Ruben Baraja.

With the fulcrum of their side below-par, Arsenal failed to dominate proceedings, especially as they were quickly pressed every time they won possession.

Neither goalkeeper was tested until Andres Palop, a replacement for the injured Santiago Canizares, saved a routine drive from Dennis Bergkamp on 28 minutes.

He was also quickly off his line to deny Thierry Henry as the Frenchman stretched his legs for the first time in the game shortly afterwards after a neat link-up between Bergkamp and Vieira.

That was Vieira's last real involvement in the game, however, as he limped off without even waiting for treatment and was replaced by Ray Parlour.

Parlour, who scored against Valencia two seasons ago at Highbury, was determined to make up for lost time on his return from a two-month injury.

And there was finally a real game to make his mark on after the break as both sides began to find their touch.

Carew strode clear but shot well wide and Arsenal responded immediately, with Ljungberg's exquisite drag-back giving him a sight of goal only for goalkeeper Palop to block with his legs.

Valencia's massed defensive ranks managed to block follow-up efforts from both Pires and Henry, while a header from Bergkamp was also saved soon afterwards.

At least Arsenal's pressure was gradually mounting, although gaps were conversely appearing in their own defence as the dangerous Pablo Aimar started to tease out openings.

Then again, Valencia were suddenly down to 10 men for the final 18 minutes to give Arsenal renewed hope.

The decision came out of nowhere, with Angulo guilty of a moment of madness for elbowing Cygan in the stomach for no reason at all.

It was not necessarily the most violent attack but, as David Beckham could testify, any such off-the-ball aggression straight in front of referee Kim Milton Nielsen tends to be immediately and severely punished.

Suddenly reinvigorated, Arsenal came again. Ljungberg's drive was held by Palop and Campbell almost managed to prod a close-range shot home.

However, there was relief when Carew flashed a drive a couple of yards wide in the closing stages and then saw Campbell hook clear his equally acrobatic volley at the far post.

In between those two openings, Arsenal actually managed to create their own clearest opening, with first Kanu and then Wiltord denied from close range, while a handball appeal also went unheard.

In the end, a draw was just about a fair result. Arsenal can only hope a similar outcome in the Mestalla next March will be enough to secure their progression this time around.

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Scoring Summary

  • Arsenal
  • Valencia