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Arsenal Beats Roma 1-0

Arsene Wenger reckons in two or three years this Arsenal team will be graduating with honors. If he can teach them where the goal is, he might be right.

For while these young Gunners can pass the opposition to death they need to spend a considerable amount of time at finishing school.

Robin van Persie’s 36th-minute penalty gives Arsenal the edge going into the second leg in Rome in a fortnight.

But it should have been so much better — with Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue guilty of glaring misses which could return to haunt them.

Roma still have hope where they should have had none and Gunners boss Wenger knows it. His contorted face on the touchline and the frustration in his voice as he spoke afterwards told the story.

But it is not as if this is a new phenomenon. Even in the days when Arsenal used to win trophies, albeit domestic rather than European ones, they were the kings of squandered opportunities.

Wenger’s side has talent in abundance though and the way they knocked the ball around, particularly in the first half, was a joy. The enthusiasm of youth proved overpowering to the more experienced visitors.

Roma have never been terribly good on their visits to England and a couple of years ago were beaten 7-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford.

A few of the names have changed but new boys like Julio Baptista, who once had a season on loan at Arsenal, have made little difference.

Baptista had vowed to make Wenger regret not taking up the option of signing him for £10m but it looked like a wise decision.

The first time anyone noticed the Brazilian, nicknamed The Beast, was when he was subbed with eight minutes left. Scary he was not.

Wenger had moaned that teams were coming to the Emirates and shutting up shop, as Sunderland did at the weekend to earn a 0-0 draw. But there were no such stifling tactics from Roma. They tried to play, which was helpful of them, and consequently the Gunners found plenty of room to work in.

They should have opened the scoring on six minutes when Bacary Sagna picked out the busy Samir Nasri down the right and the French midfielder cut the ball back for Bendtner with no Roma defender anywhere near him.

The ball was slightly behind the Dane but he had plenty of time to get it under control and shoot.

Unfortunately he had the touch of an elephant and the ball bounced away, to the exasperation of a home crowd which is rarely off his back.

Nasri headed wide when he should have hit the target from six yards and Roma defender Philippe Mexes resorted to crudely hacking down Eboue as he tried to break through.

Wenger employed an unusual 4-2-3-1 formation with Van Persie up front and Bendtner in an unfamiliar role out wide. But with Abou Diaby popping up all over the place, as well as Eboue, Roma did not know how to mark or who to mark.

They fashioned a couple of openings with Marco Motta forcing a fingertip save out of Manuel Almunia from a 20-yard screamer and Simone Loria hooking over the top with the outside of his right foot.

But by and large it was all Arsenal and they took the lead on 36 minutes.

Bendtner miscontrolled again and the fans were just about to give him what for until he quickly recovered to slide a pass through to Van Persie in the penalty area.

The Dutchman had got goalside of the hapless Mexes, who made no attempt to play the ball as he tripped the Arsenal striker.

A penalty was rightly awarded and Van Persie dusted himself down to plant the kick into the bottom right-hand corner. Arsenal looked good enough to add to their tally.

But they were unsettled at the start of the second half when referee Claus Bo Larsen whistled for kick-off with only nine of the home side on the field. Kolo Toure and William Gallas came sprinting out of the tunnel and, as Toure ran on, he was booked for entering the field without permission. Quite ridiculous!

Bendtner was living on the edge with his supporters and was back in their bad books as he blazed a great chance over from eight yards.

When he got in a similar position 30 seconds later, the Danish striker chose not to risk a shot and passed instead — much to the fury of his manager. Maybe Bendtner should go back to wearing those pink boots he used to like so much. He was not the only guilty man though.

Eboue, another of the Emirates’ favourite whipping boys, missed a great opening as well. The Ivory Coast star collected a pass from Gael Clichy, beat two defenders and then blasted wide.

Arsenal almost paid for their wastefulness when former Liverpool defender John-Arne Riise was inches wide with one of his long-range specials. If that had gone in, Arsenal really would have been kicking themselves.