Arsenal produced another flat performance and will be grateful to Szczesny and the woodwork that they hold a slender lead going into next week’s second leg.
men boys looked anything but genuine Champions League contenders as they made heavy work of an Udinese side which had lost its three best players over the summer. Yet the Gunners raised our hopes after only four minutes when good play down the right released Ramsey, who crossed perfectly for Walcott to volley in from close range. 1-0 and just the start an inexperienced side short on confidence needed.
However, they failed to capitalise and it soon became apparent that the Italians were useful on the break. Szczesny made a solid one-on-one stop to deny Pablo Armero after our defence shockingly parted like the red sea allowing him a clear run at goal from the halfway line. Moments later a mix up between Koscielny and Vermaelen allowed another Udinese player to charge through, but he was denied by a last ditch tackle.
Will Theo's goal be enough? Let's hope so
Going forward Arsenal were suffering from the same problem as Saturday as they failed to create any meaningful chances against a resolute defence. In fact the next time the visiting keeper was really tested was when the best move of the match saw the lively Gervinho play in Walcott, whose curled effort was brilliantly palmed away.
That was in the 91st minute.
Before then Szczesny made a wonderful diving save to parry a free kick from Di Natale as the Italians threatened an equaliser that wouldn’t have flattered them. Indeed, they had 13 attempts on goal to our 10.
Our bad luck with injuries continued as first Gibbs went off with his replacement Djourou lasting only a few minutes himself. Rookie Carl Jenkinson had to play as an emergency left back and struggled to cope with the huge step up in class from the League One opponents he is used to. But we held firm and given the performance and off field distractions, a one goal lead with a clean sheet is a good result.
It occurred to me that our line-up would’ve been a strong Carling Cup team last season with players such as Gibbs, Ramsey, Rosicky, Chamakh, Frimpong and Jenkinson being asked to get us through a match worth £25m. Thinking about who else would be available for the second leg, all I could come up with was van Persie and maybe Wilshere. That’s not enough additional quality in my opinion and this tie is finely balanced with the Italians likely to be more dangerous at home. Di Natale has been the top scorer in Serie A for the last two seasons so we’ll have to be very wary of him.
When we’d previously played in the qualifying rounds we made the matches look like glorified pre-season games as we swept aside our opponents and progressed with ease, but here we are we are sweating on qualification with as weak a squad as I can remember for a long time. I had to remind myself that it was only six months ago we beat Barcelona – so much has changed so quickly and on this evidence we look unlikely to make any impact on the Champions League even if we make it through.
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