Udinese 1 v Arsenal 2 ( Arsenal win 3-1 on aggregate)

Amid all the doom and gloom, the negativity, the demands for new signings, amid all the questioning of his tactics and question marks over his ability to manage, somewhere deep from within, Arsene Wenger inspired his young Arsenal side into the group stages of the Champions League for the fourteenth consecutive time. That in itself is a fantastic achievement, and given the backdrop of all of the above and compounded by the high profile departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, the 2-1 win over Udinese at the Stadio Friuli, could represent something of a turning point in a still very early season. Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott netted to cancel out Antonio Di Natale’s opener for the Serie A side. Wojciech Szczesny added to his burgeoning reputation by saving from the Argentine hit man, a save that may come to symbolise the spirit that Wenger always insists his players possess.

Wenger reflects on Italian job well done - Listen


Ahead of this game the morning headlines speculated intensely that should Arsenal lose and go out of the Champions League, Wenger would walk. “ No chance!” was his defiant reply when asked that same question after Saturday’s loss to Liverpool, and here we saw the reason why. Having served his own one match ban Van Persie returned as did the fit Johan Djourou with Wenger having Gervinho, Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong on Euro duty. Jack Wilshere’s ankle is getting to be another injury concern that Wenger does not need. The nineteen-year-old England man will be out for another three weeks after a relapse in training.

Looping header

UEFA allowed Wenger to sit on the bench pending Arsenal’s appeal from the first leg when Wenger was banished to the stands serving his own one match ban from last season’s fixture in Barcelona. On a hot north eastern Italian night, the Udinese faithful expected their side to overcome Arsenal’s narrow one lead from the Emirates and created all the early pressure. It was Di Natale the top scorer in Serie A for the past two seasons who got the opener. Pablo Armero had hit the woodwork, but when Giampiero Pinzi found Di Natale – he had seen an early effort disallowed for offside, and another come back of the post – this time his looping header had the measure of Szczesny, and just before the break to give the home side a 1-0 lead. Arsenal response was to test Samir Handanovic through Van Persie and Walcott efforts, but the Udinese ‘keeper held firm.

Deflated Udinese

At the break, Wenger replaced Frimpong with Tomas Rosicky and immediately the Gunners began to tick. Gervinho was getting away from his marker and with one such run, he fed Van Persie, whose trusted left foot leveller on the night gave Arsenal a valuable away goal on 55 minutes. Four minutes later and controversy reigned after Vermaelen was deemed to have handled the ball. It was harsh, but Szczesny,s acrobatic dive to his right kept the scores at 1-1. Walcott had a mixed first half but still hit a 20-yard shot at Handanovic. He made amends on 69minutes. His pace got him clear of his marker and a low near post shot was to prove too good for Handanovic. The hundreds of travelling fans made all the noise as Udinese were deflated. Late saves from Handanovic were to deny Van Persie and Armand Traore extended the Gunners lead as Wenger and his young Arsenal side successfully negotiated a very thorough European examination.