Thursday, 25 August 2011

Udinese 1-2 Arsenal: Champions League Football Awaits Arsenal.

Arsenal travelled to Udinese in Italy last night for the second leg of their Champions League final qualifying round. They held a narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg, but with a number of players missing through injury it looked like they were in for a tough night. The prize for the victors was a place in the group stages of this season's Champions League, and a minimum payout of €30 million.

Arsene Wenger had very little choice with the team he picked on the night, and he changed his tactics slightly by deploying two holding midfielders. During the first half neither Alex Song or Emmanuel Frimpong seemed to take the role as a solely defensive one, and the Arsenal defence were vulnerable as a result. At half time Wenger withdrew Frimpong and put Tomas Rosicky on to try to gain more control in midfield.

Arsenal's first leg lead had already been lost at that stage due to a 39th minute goal from Antonio Di Natale. He found some space in the Arsenal box and looped a header over the helpless Wojciech Szczesny into the top corner of the net. Udinese came very close on a few other occasions in that first half, but Arsenal had a couple of good chances too.

Arsenal looked stronger from the start in the second half and it only took them 10 minutes to get the equaliser on the night. The goal came from Robin Van Persie, as he met a cut-back from Gervinho to sweep the ball home from six yards. Gervinho did very well to beat his man on the outside to create the chance, and Arsenal had a few players in the box waiting for the cut-back.

The tide had turned in Arsenal's favour, as Udinese now needed two goals to go through and Arsenal were clear favourites. All they had to do was keep things tight at the back and pick off Udinese on the break, as they pushed forward and tired. Of course it's never that easy with Arsenal and Thomas Vermaelen conceded a penalty soon afterwards, as he was adjudged to have handled the ball in a goalmouth scramble.

I thought it was a very harsh penalty, as he was pushed into the ball by a Udinese player, but he didn't protest too much about it. Di Natale stepped up to take the penaly, but Szczesny had a few words with him beforehand. He struck the ball really hard and Szczesny dived the right way, but he still had to put the full strength of his hand behind the ball to knock it over the bar. It was an absolutely fantastic save and it seemed to lift the Arsenal players even more.

Arsenal were now doing their best to play possession football, and Udinese were closing them down less as the game wore on. In the 69th minute Theo Walcott exchanged passes with Bacary Sagna and raced through on goal from the left hand side. I always feel Walcott has a better chance of scoring from the left, as the whole goal is open to him with his right foot.

He took his chance very well and put it past the keeper at the near post. It meant Udinese now needed three goals in 20 minutes, and they looked a tired and dispirited team. Arsenal again did their best to play keep ball, and they had the best of the chances in the last 20 minutes.

It means Arsenal will be in the draw for the group stages of the Champions League, and some of the pressure on Wenger and his players has been lifted. I thought Song had an excellent second half playing in front of the defence, and a few more performances like that will certainly help to improve Arsenal's league position. He is suspended for the next two games of course along with Gervinho, but there's still a lot of games left this season.

I was delighted with the effort and determination shown by the players last night, and I thought the introduction of Rosicky was a turning point for them. He was able to offer the creativity needed, and put his foot on the ball to slow things down when needed. I don't think he's capable of a full 90 minutes any more, but coming on at half time he had an awful lot to offer.

Arsenal will go the Premier League champions Manchester United on Sunday with a little more belief, but it will be with a depleted team. They also have seven more days to come up with the players needed to strengthen the squad before the transfer window closes. Those players should be a little easier to attract now that Champions League qualification is guaranteed for the 14th consecutive season.

Hopefully Wenger can use the vast amount of money available to him to convince a few players that there is a bright future for them at Arsenal. 

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from last night's game with thanks to 101greatgoals as always.

See You Tomorrow.


  1. Phew! what a sigh of relief after all the negative build up

  2. It's a massive win and I was quite happy to predict the correct score with RVP getting on the scoresheet too.