Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
Roma made quite a meal of getting through to the last sixteen of the competition. They finished as runners up in Group E behind Bayern Munich with 10 points from 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses.
They lost their opening game 2-0 away to Bayern Munich and then evened their record with a home win against Romanian side Cluj.
With Basle the match-day three visitors it seemed as if the heavy lifting had been done. Not so as Basle beat Roma 3-1 at the Olympic Stadium. The return fixture in Switzerland came close to imploding on Roma as well despite enjoying a 2-0 lead inside the first 25 minutes.
Eventually Roma won 3-2 but the home match against Bayern Munich was to provide further evidence that Roma and drama go hand in hand in this season’s competition.
The Germans led 2-0 at half time and with ten minutes left were still ahead 2-1. Goals by De Rossi and Totti turned the game and Roma won another one 3-2.
Roma have slipped to 8th in Serie A and have only one draw in their last three league matches. The primary Roma scoring threat comes from Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic.
Shakhtar Donetsk won the final edition of the UEFA Cup in 2009. However, the club failed to push on a make any impact in last season’s Champions League and failed to negotiate a way past Romanian club Timişoara in the third qualifying round.
Things went a lot more smoothly this season. As champions of Ukraine they were awarded an automatic spot in the group stages. The only real set back was a 5-1 hammering that Arsenal inflicted at the Emirates although Shakhtar did win the return leg 2-1 and finished top of group H with 15 points.
Arsenal was the only team to score on Shakhtar during group play. The Ukraine league does not stay up again until early March but when play paused for the winter break Shakhtar sat top with a 12 point bulge on second place Dynamo Kiev and had taken a whopping 52 points from 19 games.
To prepare for their first appearance in the round of sixteen match Shakhtar have been playing friendly matches in warmer climes.
Coach Mircea Lucescu is vastly experienced and he has a squad that is impressive. From defenders Razman Rat and Dymtro Chygrynskiy to midfielders like Tomas Hübschman, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira (all Brazil) and wing back Darijo Srna there is a depth and a flair that should have Roma concerned.
Goals can come from the midfield but there is also firepower up front with players such as Luiz Adriano, and Eduardo. Bolivian Marcelo Moreno who spent time with Wigan on loan is also available.
Arsenal v Barcelona
This is a repeat of last season’s Champions League quarter final. Like last season the first leg will be played at the Emirates and Arsenal will be looking to get a kick of the ball in the first twenty minutes, something that they were not allowed last season.
Barcelona simply overpowered Arsenal last season and the tie could have been over before half time if had not been for a remarkable goalkeeping display from Manuel Almunia – his finest hour or what must have felt like an hour.
Almost a year on and Arsenal might argue that they are a better team than twelve months ago, but Barcelona could argue the same thing.
Arsenal are still in contention for the Premier League – trailing Manchester United by four points – face Leyton Orient on Saturday in the FA Cup and a Carling Cup Final appointment with Birmingham City on February 27.
All offer a substantially greater chance of success than making it through against Barcelona.
Although Barcelona was not a specific choice off Arsenal’s they were in a strong position to avoid the “heavyweights” in the round of 16.
Three straight wins to start the group stage had Arsenal cruising but two away losses to Shakhtar and Braga meant that they lost control of their destiny and a final day win against Partizan Belgrade was only good enough to finish as runners up in Group H.
Twice winners of the Champions League and twice losing semi-finalists in the last five seasons made Barcelona a favourite for the 2010/11 edition from the off.
But this isn’t a case of taking past performances and projecting continued success. Almost every time Barcelona takes to the pitch they reinforce the notion that we could be watching one of the great club teams of all time.
They lead Real Madrid in La Liga by 7 points, have to face their rivals in the Copa del Rey Final in April and are positioned to complete a second treble in three seasons.
Arsenal fans looking for hope might point to a speed bump Barcelona encountered on the weekend when they only drew with Sporting Gijon – conversely dropping two points may only add an even sharper edge to Barcelona’s play.
Messi, Villa and Pedro have combined for 51 goals in 23 league matches but nine other players have chipped in as well. Barcelona won Group E with 14 points and going unbeaten with 4 wins and 2 draws.
Something else worth noting is that only allowed 3 goals as well as scoring 14. Their best performance probably came against Panathinaikos after going behind 1-0. Five unanswered goals put paid to any suggestion of an upset.
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