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Udinese 1-2 Arsenal: Analysis & Video Highlights

Arsenal started Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Song, Ramsey, Gervinho, Van Persie © and Walcott for what was in many ways the biggest game of Arsenal’s season. The pressure really was on – 31ºC heat in Udine’s Stadio Friuli was coupled with the departure of Samir Nasri, sticky humidity, a hostile crowd, and the news that Wilshere would be out injured for a further three weeks provided a tense backdrop to what was already a make-or-break second leg coming off of the back of a loss to Liverpool and in the face of a tough trip to Old Trafford.

There was a very welcome return for Van Persie and manager Arsene Wenger, the former having served his European ban and the latter awaiting further proceedings. Udinese were unchanged from the first leg with Handanovic, Neuton, Danilo, Benatia, Ekstrand, Pinzi, Asamoah, Armero, Agyemang-Badu, Armero, Isla and Di Natale (C).

The game started very open with great chances for Badu, Gervinho and Walcott – a typical Gervinho run was blocked at the very last by Handanovic in only the second minute. In a real end-to-end start the Italians looked as if they intended to attack with pace – Armero, Badu and Isla providing it. Ramsey’s long-range blocked-shot led to the first set piece of the game, a corner which Udinese defended well and used as a springboard to attack. A well-worked throw in found its way to Di Natale deep in the box, but Vermaelen stepped up in a timely fashion to catch him offside, nullifying his finish past Szczesny.

The game continued at break-neck speed, with Gervinho’s patented line-running leading to many counter attacks; the Columbian Armero was much the same and he skinned Song (who was filling in for the advanced Jenkinson) and wasted his crossing opportunity. Udinese were still seriously dangerous however, with Isla and Di Natale linking up to put Armero in the 17th minute for a near post cross, which Arsenal nervously defended before his fellow Ghanaian Asamoah was caught offside. Arsenal responded with a through-ball to an offside Walcott who failed to score anyway – if anyone had something to prove, it was Theo, after a miserable performance against Liverpool. In the 23rd minute the Chilean Mauricio Isla played a superb ground cross to Di Natale who somehow hit the post beating Djourou – surprisingly, it was Sagna who was being beaten time and time again by the Udinese wingers who were feeding the lethal 33-year-old Di Natale. Udinese were dangerous when holding the ball in defence and unforgiving in quick direct attacks, tempting the volatile Song and Frimpong to make big challenges – some they completed, some they didn’t.

In the 29th minute Walcott, in behind, crossed in and RVP collected Neuton’s header on the edge of the box, hitting a weak foot shot well over. After half an hour the general pace had slowed significantly, but was still played at quicker than premier league pace – something that probably suited the home team rather than arsenal, who play a high offside line. Vermaelen was heroic in a huge tackle on Isla which led to a heavy knock for him, and the ball found its way to Walcott, who forced a save, and then Van Persie who did likewise – although Theo should have scored initially, Handanovic was heroic in-goal. Di Natale attacked back quickly and Djourou was left between the sticks to clear Szczesny’s parry. Vermaelen, Di Natale, and Isla all carried knocks towards the end of the half, where Arsenal had 61% of the possession after 33 minutes, but you wouldn’t have known it. The young midfield three of Frimpong, Song and Ramsey looked to be feeling the pressure with a mixed bag of passing and tackling as well as no attacking presence.

The Italians equalised the aggregate score in the 39th minute with a truly majestic looping header from Di Natale who beat Djourou in the air– Pinzi, who chipped into him, was allowed to pick his spot for a long time and should definitely have been closed down by the leggy Song or Frimpong. Following this, Arsenal didn’t seem to react at all, with a nearly invisible midfield and front three with no attacking flair and no pressure on the opposing midfield. After an uneventful minute of stoppage time Arsenal went in for Wenger’s team talk at 1-0 on the night, 1-1 on aggregate.

Rosicky replaced Frimpong at half time in what looked an attacking change to go back to Arsenal’s signature 4-3-3 as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 – Arsenal could really do with a goal which would prevent extra time and force the home side to score two. Alex Song was unfortunately booked in the 48th minute for a nothing challenge on the flailing Pinzi and this led to a return foul on Jenkinson, sparking Badu to confront Jenkinson after Rosicky’s clean challenge on Neuton which the Brazilian made a meal of – Isla came out of the brawl with a booking and the Djourou wasted the free kick when he hand-balled Van Persie’s delivery on the six yard box. Van Persie’s blocked shot in the 54th minute led to a shot for Rosicky which was blocked, span to Gervinho who made real in-roads into the penalty area and teed up Van Persie at close range, a chance the Arsenal captain emphatically stuck past Handanovic and his flanking defenders to level the score at 1-1.

Out of absolutely nothing however, the referee gave a late penalty against Arsenal in the 59th minute and booked Vermaelen – it wasn’t at all clear why it was given but replays showed it was a handball. Di Natale stepped up against Szczesny, in a confrontation that looked over as soon as it started as the Italian thumped it into the top left hand corner – but in a goalkeeping display as good as any Arsenal keeper before him, the young Pole saved it with conviction, inspiring the whole team forward to attack. After good Arsenal pressure, Ramsey had a weak shout for a penalty moments later in the 61st minute and it was waved away after a great tackle from Brazilian centre-half Danilo. The Gunners continued to respond well with excellent (59%) possession, crisp passing and good runs to make  the Italians run.

It all payed off when Walcott was played in by Sagna down the left-wing, leaving his markers in his wake and sending the keeper the wrong way from close range in the 69th minute to take the lead on the night and force an aggregate score that meant Udinese needed 3 to win. Theo woke up after scoring and went down after being elbowed by Neuton in the 71st minute, staying down, the referee bringing the play back but not awarding a card or a penalty for a clear sending off offence – this led to Sagna being booked for dissent. The English winger was then taken down by Benatia and for whatever reason both players were booked, meaning that Walcott will be suspended for the first game of the group stages. In the 75th minute Jenkinson was booked for dissent for kicking the ball away in what was more melodramatic officiating from the ref.

The Italians weren’t ready to roll over yet though, with Di Natale firing wide from close after a good through ball from Badu. Arsenal stayed strong and tried to kill off the game with characteristic mesmeric passing but occasionally threatened with a weak shot from Walcott in the 82nd minute. Song was again pulled up but not sent off after ‘fouling’ an Udinese forward on the edge of the area in what looked a fair challenge – Szczesny parried Di Natale’s whipped near post free kick solidly again. A bit of showboating from Van Persie and Gervinho in the corner led to Fabrini being booked for taking down Aaron Ramsey, setting up a dangerous free-kick for Arsenal. Armand Traore, returning from a groin strain, replaced Gervinho in the 86th minute and was followed by Pasquale replaced the stretchered off Benatia who had a mystery injury.

The English side took a short free-kick and played it back around the midfield, killing off the game further before wasting further time by bringing on Andrey Arshavin for match winner Theo Walcott in the 90th minute. Van Persie looked to kill the game off deep into stoppage time with a long-range effort which Handanovic saved before making it a double by stopping Armand Traore’s shot on the rebound. At the end of the night the Gunners got the result they wanted and ultimately deserved, with highlights coming from new-boys Gervinho and Jenkinson as well as the old guard in the form of Vermaelen, Walcott and Van Persie. Man of the match, however, definitely went to the inspirational Wojciech Szczesny as exemplified when the Pole saved yet another magnificent effort from Di Natale, who was left smiling and shaking his head at the goalkeepers ability.

Watch video highlights from the game below…

Submitted by clockendview – just another Arsenal blog

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