It used to be a song sung frequently at Highbury and during most Arsenal games. Arsene Wenger’s introduction to Arsenal Football Club ensures that the song would never be sung again. Even if it did, it was done in jest. The song typify the type of football that we used to play. Tight at the back and needing only the one goal to win matches, hence “One Nil To The Arsenal”.
We beat Udinese in the first leg of Champions League play-off by that scoreline. The performance would not be included in any of the highlight reel if anyone’s making a video of Arsenal’s best bits. But fact of the matter is, we needed to achieve a lead to take to Italy for the second leg and that was achieved. Another major plus point is the clean sheet, we all know how the away goals rule in Europe can be a major pain in the ass.
This was the first actual competitive game post Cesc Fabregas. I know he didn’t play against Newcastle nor any of the pre-season stuffs but the point cannot be argued on an actual time scale. Of course the game also came after news of Emmanuel Eboue agreeing terms with Galatasary was announced. Buried together with that is the departure on loan for both Carlos Vela and Pedro Botelho. Both will be spending the entire 2011/12 season in Spain with Real Sociedad and Rayo Vallecano respectively.
With the continual sales/loan of players, the game yesterday was important to show that Arsenal are still a force to be reckoned with. That, despite the departures, the squad is still strong enough to qualify for Champions League and challenge for trophies. We needed the players left in the current squad to show and prove that Arsene Wenger and his team was not sending the team into a downward spiral.
With the exception of Marouane Chamakh and Theo Walcott replacing Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin respectively, it was the same 9 players who started at St James Park. Early exchanges set the tone for what was going to transpire in the rest of the match. Neuton (Udinese’s left back) was yellow carded and his area was where most of our attacks concentrated.
As early as the fourth minute, we took the lead. By some stroke of luck, Chamakh managed to squeeze the ball to Bacary Sagna on the right and the right back’s lofted pass sent Aaron Ramsey on his pass towards goal. The latter’s cross was turned in from close range by Walcott. It was incisive football with a dash of pace. Just what we needed as there were fears of supporters getting restless should the game go on prolong periods without us scoring.
That single goal was enough to win us the game. There were chances to add to the score. Thomas Vermaelen and Gervinho got in each other’s way when a chance came from a corner kick. Then in the dying minutes, Walcott was put through (again by Ramsey) only to see him mustered a weak effort that was easily claimed by Samir Handanovic in Udinese’s goal.
That said, there were times when our defence was prised open far too easily and the Italian team could’ve taken home the precious away goal. Alertness from Wojciech Szczesny and brave defending from Alex Song and Johan Djourou helped protect our lead. The Swiss injuring himself in the process, lasting less than 10 minutes on the field. He himself was a substitute for Kieran Gibbs. It’s a worry to see the big gap in midfield where Song was left being the lonely figure against 2 or sometimes 3 oppositions.
The performance of Chamakh left a lot to be desired. Still devoid of that confidence in his game. It’s a big worry considering he’s the first choice back-up to RvP. While he had a decent first half, linking plays and winning headers, the second half was a reminder that perhaps we also need additions to his position.
If the squad was threadbare before, the situation became much worse over the course of this match. So much so that we saw something new for Arsenal today. Vermaelen playing at left back for 10 minutes before Carl Jenkinson took over that role when Djourou left the field. Acquisitions are necessary to supplement those two positions. No denying that the game further exacerbated the fact that we’re probably a man short at centre back and left back.
Much credit will have to be given to the Francesco Guidolin’s team. They were neither tactically defensive nor a bad team. In fact they were so good that for a moment I thought they were by far the team with the highest ball possession in any of Arsenal’s game at the Grove. We shall discount Barcelona in this calculation. That said, apart from Antonio Di Natale and their midfield, Udinese are not particularly strong elsewhere. But boy was that midfield good.
The second leg will happen in a week’s time. We’ve got Liverpool to worry about now. There was a job to be done yesterday and we did it, albeit in a very professional manner. It’s a precarious position. Anyone who thinks that we’re in a comfortable place with this result needs a couple of knocks to the head.