Champions League: An Early Italian Job for the Gunners
Arsenal’s 2011/12 European sojourn begins tonight, albeit a bit earlier than we Gooners would have wanted, when Italian side Udinese visit the Emirates for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League final qualifying round match with a place in the lucrative group stages at stake.
Both sides will have several key players missing through injury, suspension and Barcelona with Arsenal set to be without Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri through suspension. Jack Wilshere remains a doubt after sitting out Saturday’s fiery goalless draw at Newcastle United and Cesc Fàbregas has finally completed his protracted move to Barcelona just as Gaël Clichy has moved on to Manchester City.
Ivorian forward Gervinho looks set to get his European debut following a rough welcome to Premier League football at St. James’ Park while Theo Walcott’s bubbly substitute appearance there puts him in good contention for a starting shirt tonight coupled with van Persie being suspended and Marouane Chamakh in poor form.
Udinese on their part have lost Chilean playmaker Alexis Sanchez to the Catalan giants as well while their Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler has swapped their black-white stripes for the navy blue strip of Napoli. Imposing Colombian defender Cristian Zapata has joined Spanish outfit Villarreal and the transfer of Denis away from the club is just about completed.
Still available for the Italians in their quest for the group stage though are Maurisio Isla, assured goalkeeper Samir Hamdanovic and forward Antonio di Natale who has finished top of the goalscoring chart for the last two seasons along with Antonio Floro Flores who joins from Genoa where he netted ten times in eighteen games last season.
Despite the absence of van Persie and Nasri, the Gunners go into the encounter slight favourites based primarily on the healthy record against Italian opposition with both Milan clubs and AS Roma the most notable Italian sides overcome by the Gunners in recent years.
Arsenal also hold the slight advantage of match fitness on the back of pre-season matches and one league game while the Serie A; in the event players threat to strike falls through, will only kick-off at the end of August. There also is the record of Arsenal reaching the Champions League group phase for the 14th consecutive season that Udinese have up against them.
Hopefully, Saturday’s lethargic performance will have the lads see the need to raise their game a few notches ahead of the 19:45 kick-off.
Posted on August 16, 2011, in Match Preview, News and tagged Antonio di Natale, Arsenal, Champions League, Emirates, European football, Gervinho, Samir Nasri, Udinese. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.