Giampolo Pozzo, owner of Udinese, has likened the visit to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal in the Champions League playoff qualifier as ‘going to New York for the first time’. The bright lights of Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie have been shut down for the tie, due to suspension, but the Gunners will still feel that they have enough firepower and quality to progress. Or will they?
The Bianconeri may have lost their three leading talents from last season in defender Cristian Zapata, midfielder Gokhan Inler and forward Alexis Sanchez, but tales of transferring their stars are not new to the fans of Udine. Udinese have built up a reputation of selling their best stars at their maximum valuations and replacing them with unearthed, unknown players that form their own dynasties in a black and white shirt.
Udinese’s problems usually arrive from trying to co-ordinate and integrate the new players they bring in at the start of the season. Their openings to the campaign are traditionally poor and Arsenal will look to exploit this current problem when they face off in the first leg on August 16th. The first leg being held at the Emirates Stadium should allow Arsenal to grab a comfortable victory and then head to Udine and defend against not only the attacking flow of Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin, but a raucous capacity crowd at the Stadio Fruili.
The youth of the Bianconeri are spearheaded by their captain Antonio Di Natale. The forward is the main focal point of the Udinese attack and the departure of Sanchez has been addressed by Barreto, who Udinese have signed back to the club following his sale to Bari last summer. Di Natale scored 28 goals last season and his veteran striking ability could cause problems to the, some would say, troubled Gunners backline.
Arsenal may face problems with the free-flowing football Udinese like to play. The departure of Sanchez will not dampen Guidolin’s spirits of bringing attacking fire towards opposition defences and the Gunners will have to keep things incredibly tight in both legs if they want to ensure progression. Udinese may set up shop in the first leg to ensure they can have an ambitious crack at the Gunners in the second leg, but it would not be surprising if the Bianconeri came out flying at the Emirates and looked to put Arsenal on the backfoot quickly.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is still in the hunt to bring an accomplished, committed central defender to his Arsenal squad. Blackburn’s Chris Samba or Bolton’s Gary Cahill have been identified as the two main targets and the acquisition of one of those two, before the Udinese game, would help the Gunners considerably. Fearless defenders will be needed to put up with the task of stopping the Bianconeri onslaught and Samba or Cahill are just the men Wenger could use.
Udinese usurped the Rome giants of Roma and Lazio to reach the fourth placed finish in Serie A last season and Wenger would definitely have been hoping for an easier draw than the one he faces up to in mid-to-late August. The Bianconeri are a genuine threat to Wenger’s hopes of getting into the Champions League groups and he will be hoping to have his squad in place before the fixture.
Selling Gokhan Inler to Napoli could backfire on Guidolin in this game however. The Swiss enforcer dominated the midfield for Udinese and without him, the heart of the Udinese defence could be ripped apart by the forward thinking of Arsenal players such as Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and new summer edition Gervinho. The game in the end will come down to which team can hold the better defensive line against each other’s attacking games and if Arsenal are able to acquire an established defender before the fixture, the fears of the draw will subside slightly and Gunners fans can expect to entertain Champions League fixtures at the Emirates Stadium again this season.