Barring the 4th minute moment of magic which led to Theo Walcott’s strike and another near Walcott goal in the dying minutes, it was Udinese who looked far more threatening for major spells of the match. Arsenal looked distinctly uncomfortable as Udinese kept the defense and Wojciech Sczeszny on their toes.
The Emirates could not have asked for a better start as Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott combined impeccably with the former curling an inch perfect cross past the Udinese defense and Walcott bursting forth near post finished emphatically. The fans were finally rocking after days of trepidation and uncertainty.
Udinese kept their counsel with the evergreen Antonio Di Natale in command and a robust midfield led by Kwadwo Asamoah, Giampiero Pinzi, and Pablo Armero it was not long before they got into the game. Arsenal survived a Di Natale free kick which had Sczeszny beaten but fortunately for them the ball hit the woodwork. A few minutes later, he had to get down low to save an Armero shot as a break away move had the Arsenal defense in sixes and sevens with Song finally clearing the ball out of danger. Udinese finished the first half with a good head of steam.
The second half started ominously with Kieran Gibbs being subbed by Johan Djourou because of a hamstring strain and Udinese applying a vise on the proceedings. Arsenal struggled to break free from their own half which ended in more misery with Djourou being in turn taken off because of hamstring concerns and Carl Jenkinson, the 18 year old central defender making his CL debut. Jenkinson was put to the test straightaway with Di Natale almost getting the better of him but the former Addick guided the ball away for a more harmless corner.
Udinese were by now bossing the ball- they looked fast, exciting, and decisive while Arsenal were ponderous, boring, and timorous. The only thing keeping Udinese from scoring was their inability to convert, a problem not unknown to Arsenal.
It was all getting a bit desperate as the thousand or so Bianconeri fans gave throat to their excitement as the Gunners looked short of ideas and control. With Arsene Wenger averting his eyes from the pitch as he served out a touch line ban it was Boro Primorac furiously texting messages to a courier with instructions. It wasn’t until the 70th minute Udinese had to do their first real bit of defending of the second half as Gervinho mounted a challenge. Emmanuel Frimpong was brought on for Tomas Rosicky and like Jenkinson was tested by the wily Di Natale. A free kick by Udinese captain was saved smartly by Sczeszny.
The pressure eased off as Udinese began to tire and Arsenal were able to regain possession of the ball in the last 10 minutes and Walcott almost struck again after Gervinho did all the spadework but Samir Handanovic showed us why he’s considered such a top rate talent.
In sum, it was a good win but it already has the feel of a long drawn out season. Whether this one goal lead will be enough in the return leg at the Stadio Friuli remains to be seen. We will have the services of Van Persie and hopefully Jack Wilshere.
A note on Marouane Chamakh who occupied space but did little else. He had the energy of a potted plant. His job description when successful consisted of holding up the ball and passing the ball back. Most of the times he was bundled off the ball like a cheap suit. Why he wasn’t replaced by Nicklas Bendtner is a bit of a mystery but maybe the thinking was to try and hold onto the one goal lead which explains Frimpong’s presence. Theo Walcott had an excellent game which is all very well because Fabio Capello watching him was less impressed by his comments. Gervinho was a live wire and showed the necessary endeavour although he appeared out of control at times. Alex Song and the back four also put in a solid shift. Aaron Ramsey drifted in and out of the match.