The good part is Arsene Wenger will be on the sidelines sparing us the sight of the hapless Pat Rice searching for cues, any cue in the Udinese first leg. There is a story in this too which we'll get to in a later posting.
Robin Van Persie is back from suspension to give the attack more teeth. The midfield has been bolstered by Emanuel Frimpong's performance which allows Wenger the luxury of switching Song to centre back and partner Vermaelen as Johan Djourou although included is not quite at 100%. Armand Traore has also been included as the specialist left back allowing Sagna shunted to that position during the Liverpool match to resume his usual right back duties. Tomas Rosicky has also been declared fit which see his pairing with Ramsey in midfield.
Should Walcott start? He's more useful as a striker than a winger. But his pace could peg the dangerous wingback Pablo Armero into defensive duties. Armero's forays into attack provided the most dangerous moments for the Arsenal defense already feeling stretched containing the wily Antonio Di Natale. Walcott of course provided the only telling piece of Arsenal magic with his 4th minute goal that keeps this series competitive so there is a psychological aspect to his inclusion.
Arsenal has to go all out for another goal and put pressure on an Udinese side more than capable of scoring a handful. Wenger had to contend with a robust midfield of Giampiero Pinzi, Mauricio Isla, and Kwadwo Asamoah with their mix of youth and experience who had the better of Arsenal's midfield by some distance and should expect no drop off at home.
The starting line up should then read Szcz- Traore- Vermaelen- Song- Sagna- Frimpong- Rosicky- Ramsey- Gervinho- Walcott- Van Persie.
There is also the possibility that Wenger might bring Alex- Oxlade Chamberlain off the bench for his debut to try and force the pace if Arsenal falls behind.
The critical importance of this match cannot be understated. Win and Arsenal will go a long way in vanquishing the banshees of gloom and self doubt. There is a chance of changing the barrage of negative headlines and narrative enveloping the club. Each player needs to understand the full import of this match and seize the moment. The financial implications are equally important with €25m- €30m at stake. This is big money to a club that likes to keep its finances on the straight and narrow. The prospect of playing Champions League football could favour Arsenal in a player's decision to leave his club.
Meanwhile, Wenger likes to get much publicized credit for finding cut price talent and turning them into gems, Udinese for those less informed have been doing the same for years. Fabregas's Barca counterpart Alexi Sanchez is the most visible product of the Udinese system.There is Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata who have found homes elsewhere and earned the Friulians a buck or two.
The departures of these key players have not brought the same level of angst and disquiet roiling Arsenal perhaps because they labour under no illusions of being a small club. The money made through these sales have been quietly plowed back into one of the most intensive 24 x7 scouting operations which monitors leagues from all over the world without bias and sentiment for their talent. A rise to the top is a reflection of that commitment.