x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Shots in dark help Arsenal

Practice makes perfect, or so they say. But not apparently when it comes to a tense penalty shoot-out with a place in the Champions League quarter finals at stake.

The Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, left, is mobbed by teammates after helping his side win the shoot-out.
The Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, left, is mobbed by teammates after helping his side win the shoot-out.

Practice makes perfect, or so they say. But not apparently when it comes to a tense penalty shoot-out with a place in the Champions League quarter finals at stake. The Roma players revealed they practised spot-kicks to help them prepare for their second-leg meeting on Wednesday night. Arsenal did not. But when they were in the spotlight, when the defining moment came for them, it did not go the way they had hoped or expected.

Max Tonetto's decisive miss that gave Arsenal a 7-6 victory in sudden death after Roma had tied the aggregate scores at 1-1. "During the week we practised penalties, and I always scored them," Tonetto said, apologetic for his blunder. "When I approached my kick, I realised that [Manuel] Almunia moved in the direction I was heading at the last moment. Because of this I changed my mind, and made a huge mistake."

Theo Walcott showed how it was done for the Gunners, using the Stoke striker James Beattie's technique. "I had a dry throat going towards the goal, but I didn't look at the goalkeeper once. I learnt that from James Beattie," he said. "He's probably one of the best penalty takers I have seen. I have watched him over the years and mine wasn't as good a penalty as his, but they all count." It was cruel for Roma, who had pulled level thanks to an early close-range finish from Juan.

Arsene Wenger's side never looked entirely comfortable and despite dominating most of the possession, they failed to really trouble Doni in the Roma goal. It was the end of their 17-match unbeaten run, but they are through to the last eight and that is what matters. Walcott added: "It was like we had just won the World Cup final in the dressing room after the game." The loss left the Roma captain Francesco Totti broken- hearted. "It would have been better to lose 3-0. This feels like getting knifed," he said. "When am I going to get another chance like this?"

Perhaps the wrong choice of words considering that the tie was marred by violence in Rome, with Arsenal fans attacked en route and one person stabbed, but Uefa say they will not move the final away from the Stadio Olimpico, claiming it would be less safe elsewhere. akhan@thenational.ae