Arsenal undertake Italian mission
Written By: Robert Halter
A fourth place finish in last season’s Premier League put Arsenal up against Italian opposition Udinese Calcio, whose top four placing in Serie A meant that both teams had to face each other in a two leg Champions League play off match with the winner entering the group stages of the competition. With Arsene Wenger serving a touch line ban and Arsenal captain, Robin Van Persie also suspended, there was work to do for the Gunners. The first leg took place at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, August 16 and the Gunners made a perfect start after getting the breakthrough with only four minutes on the clock as Bacaray Sagna supplied the ammunition for an Aaron Ramsey cross that was tucked away neatly by Theo Walcott for an early opening strike against Udinese. But Arsenal had a lucky reprieve seven minutes later when Udinese’s club captain Antonio Di Natale sent a long range free kick crashing against the crossbar, following Walcott’s foul on Neuton. On twenty six minutes, a brave close range stop by Wojciech Szczesny averted the danger after a pearcing run through the heart of Arsenal’s defence by Pablo Armero and as the ball rebounded to Mauricio Isla, the Gunners keeper pulled off another important block. As the first half drew on, Isla put the ball narrowly wide from a goal scoring position as Udinese missed the chance for an all important away goal. Five minutes into the re-start, Di Natale was stopped in his tracks by Szczesny’s strong presence after Udinese threatened again. Armero spearheaded another Udinese attack midway through the second half as his well struck shot flew over the bar. Ramsey again combined with Walcott on sixty nine minutes but this time Arsenal’s number fourteen did not have his shooting boots on as Walcott miss controlled the ball in front of the target. Szczesny was at full stretch to keep out a Di Natale free kick with a quarter of an hour remaining, as Emmanuel Frimpong’s mistake went unpunished. Shots continued to rain in by Udinese as Giampiero Pinzi struck the outside stanchion on eighty two minutes. Arsenal had a penalty appeal turned away with five minutes of normal play remaining after Gervinho fell in the box when challenged by Joel Ekstrand. A heroic save from Samir Handanovic kept Udinese in the tie after Walcott was denied a second after Gervinho had put him in the clear as the match drew to a close. But the Italian outfit pressed again when Armero struck the ball over, although at the end of play it was Arsenal taking a slender 1-0 lead into the return leg at Udinese Calcio.