UDINE, ITALY - MAY 08: Antonio Di Natale (L) of Udinese celebrates with Pablo Armero after scoring Udinese's second goal during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and SS Lazio at Stadio Friuli on May 8, 2011 in Udine, Italy. (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
UEFA Champions League Qualifier, Leg 1
Kickoff: Tuesday, August 16, 245 PM EDT
Emirates Stadium, Norf London, London, England, UK, Earf
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel
Arsenal take on Udinese in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier tomorrow at the Emirates. By virtue of finishing fourth last season, Arsenal have to play two extra matches to see if they make it into the draw for the group stages of this year's tournament, and they've drawn the boys from northeastern Italy.
Arsenal go into the match with a number of issues, to say the least. Cesc Fabregas' departure has left a creative void in the middle of the park. Tomas Rosicky, who'd normally be summoned to take position in that void, faces a late fitness test tomorrow morning and may not make it. The events of last year's second leg at the Camp Nou in Barcelona mean that Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie are both suspended, and Arsène Wenger faces a touchline ban, so he will watch from the stands.
Coupled with other long term injuries, this essentially means that Arsenal's depth chart for tomorrow reads as follows:
Almunia (okay, that's not so bad)
Bendtner (yep, still here)
That's uh, prettttyyyy thin.
As for Udinese, they have lost three of their top players this summer, so they can identify. I'm not much of a Serie A head, though, so I brought in some help. As Kevin McCauley put it in his preview for the main page:
Alexis Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata are all gone, but all of them have been replaced in some way, shape or form. With under one million people residing in Friuli and less than 100,000 residing in Udine, the club doesn't have the type of support required to raise the money to buy world class replacements for the players that they lost. Their scouting network is excellent, however, and they should be able to minimize the drop-off in quality in their squad.
They've still got a great keeper, they've still got players like Isla and Asamoah, but the important thing is that Udinese moves quickly and each player know exactly what he's meant to do. Which is more than you might say for Arsenal right now.
All in all, it's a match that Arsenal must look to win, but even more importantly, keeping a clean sheet is imperative. Udinese are no pushovers at all. Hopefully Arsenal can patch together a strong XI and hold the Zebrette scoreless.