Back to winning ways

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

Udinese – Handanovic. Ekstrand. Benatia (Pasquale 87). Danilo. Isla (Denis 83). Ageymang-Badu. Asamoah. Armero. Di Natale. Pinzi (Fabbrini 63). Subs not used: Basta. Abdi. Doubi.

Goal: Di Natale 39

Arsenal – Szczesny. Jenkinson. Vermaelen. Djourou. Sagna. Song. Frimpong (Rosicky 45). Ramsey. Walcott (Arshavin 90). Gervinho (Traore 85). Van Persie. Subs not used: Fabianski. Oxlade-Chamberlain. Chamakh. Miquel.

Goals: Van Persie 55. Walcott 69.

Le Gaffer

Well that was much more like it wasn’t it!

A performance of real drive & determination flanked by the victory it rightly deserved.

The Gunners line up was not the one I had expected to see but it certainly looked like a side that could get the job done.

Arsenal had plenty of early possession and the tempo was as frantic as it had been in the first leg with both sides looking to make an early breakthrough. You would have though that as we were effectively playing with too defensive midfielders we might have stemmed much of the Italian attacking threat but Alex Song seemed determined to get forward as much as possible & leave much of the donkey work to Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanaian, who was yesterday called up by England U21’s, certainly gave another good account of himself, always looking to make tackles & intercept the ball. Some of those tackles were maybe a little meaty for the Udinese players who you knew would make the most of anything that was a bit rash.

Just as last week, at the grove, Gervinho & Walcott were full of running early on but we still seemed like we would be lacking that clinical cutting edge and when the Italians went one up to level the tie I admit I did start to have a little worry. In fact Theo had fluffed a glorious chance to put us in complete control of the tie about half an hour in. The ref, who had an excellent first 45, played advantage after Tommy Vermaelen had gone down. Gervinho attacked down the left flank towards the Udinese goal & managed to cut back and find Theo who couldn’t compose himself and placed his shot straight at Handanovic & although the keeper allowed the ball to rebound into the path of Robin Van Persie he made up for it by saving the Dutchman’s follow up.

You suspected that we may have missed our chance, especially when Udinese scored just minutes later.

Back in the game

It was of course the stalwart Antonio Di Natale who got the home side back in the tie – the captain had already struck the post about twenty minutes in and looked in a determined mood. It was in the 39th minute that the skipper drifted in behind Djourou & was meet with a pin point cross, from Pinzi, which he looped over Szczesny and into the far left hand corner of the goal. From head to net it seemed to take an age as the ball drifted towards goal and at first I thought it had gone wide, but the Italians had taken the lead and were back in the game.

Even though one goal would put us back in the driving seat you sensed that the home side certainly had the upper hand.

It was a slight relief when half time came, between the goal & the whistle we seemed to have lost a little of our composure & with the next 45 being of such importance you worried if this side would be able to pick themselves up and come back into it. Well they certainly did…

Frimpong was replaced by Tomas Rosicky in what was an inspired move by Wenger, the youngster had certainly done himself and his budding reputation no harm but the Czech international had one of the best halves of football his Arsenal career has produced.

Leading from the front

Ten minutes into the second half and the ever industrious Gervinho again found space down the left flank, dribbled into the box and crossed from the by-line, the ball found RVP and the skipper tucked it away from six yards out to put us right back in the mix. The Italians now had to score twice without reply to advance into today’s group stage draw and as the momentum had seemingly switched back to us couldn’t see it happening. Until…

Just three minutes after our goal the Italian team were handed a lifeline in the form of a penalty kick, to say the decision to award it was dubious would be an understatement. From an in swinging Udinese corner the ball struck the arm of Vermaelen, it certainly wasn’t an obvious handball and replays showed that it was more ball to hand than the other way around. I also think that the Belgian was nudged in the direction of the ball, although most likely not in a deliberate attempt to enforce the outcome it did.

The referee, who didn’t show any of the nous he had in the first half, hadn’t even seen the supposed infringement and was informed by the extra official behind the Arsenal goal.

My hero

Unsurprisingly it was Di Natale who stepped up to take the spot kick, now being someone who grew up watching Dave Seaman I always like to think our keepers will save penalties but it’s more blind hope than any kind of true faith. So the little voice in the back of my mind considered that Szczesny could keep the ball out but was quickly dismissed as the Italian struck the ball with real power. I feared the worse, at that moment I knew Di Natale would score and we would be out, confined to Thursday nights with that lot down the road. But, seemingly, out of nowhere a gloved hand atop an out stretched arm appeared to meet the ball and send it over the cross bar.

It was the best penalty save I have ever seen, even better than old Safe Hands against Sampdoria at Highbury all those years ago. It was incredible, the sensation I felt was filled with as much euphoria as any goal has ever produced. I knew, the team knew, everyone knew that there was then no way we would be beaten.

Theo Theo...

Arsenal went on the attack and ten minutes later Theo made up for his earlier failure to score and put the tie to bed. Powering past Udinese defenders he went one on one with the keeper and showed fantastic nerve to hold off from launching his shot until just the right moment. It was a wonderful finish and in all honesty was no less than Theo & the team as a whole deserved. Over the two legs I think we created more and the aggregate score line speaks for itself.

The travelling 400 could be heard clearly and all the frustration of the last six months was not quite made up for but was certainly blown away and resigned to memory.

The Italians had given us a game (two) and were deserving of many plaudits but after Walcott’s goal they began to let themselves down with off the ball elbows (missed by ref and extra officials alike) nudges and snide little fouls. All clear indications that we had the beating of them and they knew they couldn’t come back again.

Thursday nights channel 5

It was such a pleasing victory for the players & indeed the manager, all have had to endure criticism of late but none more so than Wenger.

As I have said this result doesn’t wipe everything under the carpet, there is still the need for new recruits as there was earlier in the day and there are defiantly improvements to be made in the side but whilst it was the men on the pitch who won the game credit must go to Wenger especially for the second half change and performance. The team could easily have come out with their heads down but they didn’t they came out & fought. The addition of Rosicky gave us more creativity and whilst we’re often criticised for having no plan B that was surely as good a tactical switch as we have seen from le boss.

It’s difficult to pick out a man of the match, Vermaelen, Jenkinson & Sagna were brilliant. Gervinho, Walcott & RVP the same whilst Rosicky reminded us all of what he is capable of. But I’m going to have to give it to Wojicech Szczesny because that save was both incredible & inspirational.

The passion that players like the Pole, Jack Wilshere & Emmanuel Frimpong have for our club is incredible, even for ones so young they are true Gooners in every sense and will form the base of our side for years to come.

The draw for the group stages takes place this afternoon and we’ll be lucky to get an easy passage through to the last sixteen but the important thing is we’re still a Champions League team.

Of similar importance is how the team kicks on from here, as we all know players need to come in and I’m sure before the close of the window they will, but the players that we have right now need to use this result & performance as a springboard and take the determination & the confidance with them to Old Trafford this Sunday. United would love nothing more than to bring us crashing back down to earth so lets not let ’em.

Right I must do some work now, which means I’ve run out of time to tell you how much of a massive wanker Samir Nasri is – but you don’t need me to tell you right.

Thanks for reading!



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