LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16: Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League play-off first leg match between Arsenal and Udinese at the Emirates Stadium on August 16, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
1-0 Walcott 4'
A superb defensive performance from Arsenal ensured that the Gunners got their first win of the season, and will travel to Udine with a one goal advantage. Most importantly, despite falling under big second half pressure from Udinese, Arsenal did not concede a goal, and could've sneaked a second one at the end, with Theo Walcott having his shot saved by Samir Handanovic.
Both sides lined up similarly; Arsenal lined up in a 4-1-2-3, with Marouane Chamakh and Theo Walcott coming in for the suspended Robin van Persie and the rested Andrey Arshavin. Udinese lined up in a 4-1-4-1, perfect for canceling out Arsenal's midfield. Udinese used the width to counter, and pressed in the midfield before dropping back.
The game got off to a fantastic pace, and Arsenal quickly took the lead. Marouane Chamakh, who, for all of his touch and shooting problems, still retains excellent movement, dropped deep into the midfield, flicked for Bacary Sagna, who lobbed over the surprisingly high Udinese line for Aaron Ramsey who was taking Chamakh's role; something he didn't do against Newcastle. Ramsey then crossed for Theo Walcott, who made a diagonal run before side-volleying home.
After about 20 or so minutes, Arsenal began to tire, and Udinese came into the match more. They began to press Arsenal in the midfield, and the passing began to suffer. Tomas Rosicky in particular began to suffer as Udinese pressed him, and his passing was uncharacteristically poor, completing only 69% of all passes, and only 38% of short passes. With Udinese winning the ball back in the midfield, and Arsenal playing a 4-1-2-3, Arsenal were again overstretched in the middle, especially Alex Song. Udinese had either 5 players to attack, or 3/4. When Bacary Sagna or Kieran Gibbs got forward and Arsenal lost the ball, Song dropped into the back line, and with Arsenal retreating, Udinese had no pressure as they attacked. Antonio Di Natale hit the bar from a free kick, and Pablo Amero bombed through past Alex Song, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs from a corner, with Wojciech Szczesny denying him. With increased Udinese pressure, Arsenal were happy to see halftime come.
The start of the second half brought bad news on the injury front. Johan Djourou came on for Kieran Gibbs who picked up a hamstring injury, but departed 9 minutes later for Carl Jenkinson, after picking up, you guessed it, a hamstring injury. Looks like Cesc left his behind. Jenkinson went to left back, and did alright, after initially getting burnt a couple of times. Udinese kept up the pressure they had built up in the first half, and Arsenal continued to give the ball away in the middle; only Aaron Ramsey, among all Arsenal players had a pass completion at 80% or over. By constantly giving the ball away, though, Arsenal actually helped their defensive strategy; Udinese like to counter quickly against a limited number of opponents, but Arsenal, by employing the same tactics so frequently used against them, snuffed out that opportunity. Gervinho and Walcott, who quite often switched flanks and took turns in the middle with Chamakh, helped out defensively, and Antonio Di Natale, who likes to play off the shoulder of the defence (a true goal poacher) became frustrated, taking shots from bad angles. Arsenal had chances on the counter, and Gervinho, who's final ball frustrated again, created an excellent chance for Walcott, jinking on the right before playing in Walcott who's shot heading towards the bottom right hand corner was saved excellently. Walcott was also played in by Aaron Ramsey, but, trying to chip Handanovic, failed miserably. With Arsenal still getting overrun somewhat in the middle, Emmanuel Frimpong, likely to start against Liverpool and United, was brought on for the exhausted Tomas Rosicky. That set the midfield back to a double pivot, and solidified the middle. Arsenal began to take control of the game, and on the balance of play deserved to win.
Worryingly, though, Arsenal's attack was still poor, and the complete lack of control in the midfield made it look like Arsenal were playing Barcelona, not Udinese. They desperately missed Jack Wilshere, and desperately need to sign a midfielder to replace Cesc Fabregas; without him, Arsenal look very ordinary in the middle. Theo Walcott and Gervinho were encouraging, and Arsenal did well to transition quickly to the wide players. The defence, again, was outstanding, with Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna standing out, as did the debutant Carl Jenkinson. With just a one goal lead, though, and potential signings hinging on Arsenal's going through next week, the trip to the Udine is a recipe for heart problems. And, moaning sphincters. Yes, we're passed squeaky bum time, and it's only August. Sign some replacements, please, Arsene. We need them.
Info from the awesomely awesome UEFA press kits. The one thing they do well.