The playoff draw has been announced and for Arsenal it is not an easy one. They get Udinese who came fourth in the Serie and recently in the news for their sale of Alexis Sanchez to Barca. In fact, that transfer has a direct bearing to the Cesc Fabregas saga being played out between both clubs. It is safe to say the Friulians have an outsize influence on our CL ambitions as well as the future of our best player.
The Friulians have been weakened by the departure of Sanchez and holding midfielder Gokhan Inler whose tigerish presence in Napoli is very much appreciated. They still have the evergreen Antonio Di Natale, the top scorer in the Serie over two seasons and an outstanding goalie in Samir Hamdanovic. In midfield, Mauricio Isla can do major damage with his passing ability.
Arsenal have it worse because they are without Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri banned from the first leg at home because of their infractions in the second leg defeat against Barca. In addition, Arsene Wenger will be absent from the sidelines serving his suspension for his verbal outburst against referee Massimo Busacca in the same game. The second leg at Udinese is bookended between a Liverpool game at home and away to Man Utd which should make getting a win imperative in the first leg. The fate of Fabregas could very well be decided by then.
In fairness, they could have drawn Rubin Kazan which would have made for an arduous road trip to a tough defensive team. Kazan gave Barca a real scare two seasons ago.
This is going to be a tough August already. We could come out battered and bruised and drop to the Europa League. Then again we might find ourselves and come out smelling like roses. It's all going to happen soon.