Arsenal got their Champions League qualifying round off to a good start with a 1-0 win over Udinese at the Grove tonight.
The Gunners got off to a bright start, opening the scoring in just the 4th minute. Aaron Ramsey was set free down the right hand side, his cross was perfect for the oncoming Theo Walcott who sidefooted home at the near post.
That was as incisive as Arsenal got however. Despite an increased tendency to shoot from distance, in the final third we lacked the kind of precision and creativity necessary to make real chances.
At the other end Udinese looked dangerous and capable of breaking at pace. Their danger man, Antonio di Natale, hit the bar with a free kick from well over 30 yards out. And when they broke from an Arsenal corner Asamoah only had SZCZ to beat but the big Pole stood up well and made the save. Alex Song then got back to block the follow-up brilliantly.
The half fizzled out, Arsenal struggling to get on top of the game while the Italians looked encouraged by the time and space they had on the ball.
Arsenal made a half-time change, Johan Djourou coming on for Kieran Gibbs who injured a hamstring. Thomas Vermaelen slotted in at left back. 9 minutes later Djourou went off, also with a hamstring problem, replaced by Carl Jenkinson. The youngster went to left back, Vermaelen back into the centre of defence.
As the half went on Arsenal struggled to create anything and were put under real pressure by the Italians who tried to exploit Arsenal’s obvious nervousness. Theo Walcott had a good chance after a good ball by Ramsey but shanked it like a seal in wellies.
Arsenal brought on Frimpong to shore up the midfield but the youngster showed his inexperience, giving away a free kick just outside the box. Di Natale forced a good save from Szczesny.
Late on Walcott might have sealed the deal but the Udinese keeper made a fantastic save. Despite the lack of fluidity and the inability to dominate the game, Arsenal hung on and kept the all important clean sheet ahead of the second leg.
The worry for Arsene Wenger will be the injuries adding to the thinness of the Arsenal squad.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Rosicky, Walcott, Ramsey, Gervinho, Chamakh
Subs: Fabianski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Djourou, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Bendtner
Udinese: Handanovic, Ekstrand, Benatia, Larangeira, Neuton, Agyemang-Badu, Isla, Asamoah, Pinzi, Armero, Di Natale
Subs: Belardi, Denis, Vydra, Abdi, Pasquale, Doubai, Fabbrini