Allen Hamilton

What: Champions League Playoff Round (first leg)
Who: Arsenal vs Udinese
When: Tuesday 16th August, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England

Forgetting About Fabregas

Arsenal well knew that the day would come when they would have to move on from the Cesc Fabregas era. Instead of the Emirates Stadium the Spanish midfielder’s calming influence and mature play will grace the Camp Nou this season, but manager Arsene Wenger intends to replace his captain and fellow schemer Samir Nasri, who is expected to leave for Manchester City. And Wenger’s plans, and those of the club, will still include Champions League football, making qualification from this playoff against Udinese a must.

A more difficult challenge than Serie A’s fourth placed side from last year Arsenal could not have received, though home advantage in the first leg gives the Gunners an opportunity to effectively knock the Bianconeri out of the tie before travelling to Italy. The disappointment of an opening day draw at Newcastle United (0-0), in which new signing Gervinho saw red, must be shrugged off, and with much at stake Wenger’s next generation, including Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song, must dominate the midfield.

The Arsenal boss will call upon his side’s faithful to back the players on the pitch, despite troubles off it, against Udinese. "It is important there is love between the fans and the players", said Wenger.

The Best Time to Play Arsenal

Being paired with Arsenal must have been akin to taking a clean powerful right hand in a heavyweight boxing match for Udinese; after so much hard work in Serie A, besting the likes of Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina and Lazio to claim a Champions League qualifying berth, there is a real chance that the southern Italian club will not be present when the real magic starts.

And just as Arsenal have lost key players, so have Udinese, bidding farewell to talisman Alexis Sanchez (sold to Barcelona), tough-tackling midfielder Gokhan Inler (Napoli) and full back Cristian Zapata (Villarreal). Yet, unlike the Gunners, Udinese are used to losing talent on a regular basis. "We try to sell a player only when we know we have the guarantee of having the right replacement for him", the club’s Sporting Director Fabrizio Larini told Inside Futbol, though he did admit: "Of course, a player like Sanchez is almost impossible to replace. Not only for Udinese, but for almost every team in the world."

Nevertheless, Udinese feel that now, while Arsenal are not yet settled, is the best time to meet the English side. "The best moment to play against a big club is always at the beginning of a season, when the top teams in particular are still a work in progress", added Larini.

Recent form

Arsenal 1-1 New York Red Bulls
(31/07; Emirates Cup)
Benfica 2-1 Arsenal (06/08; Friendly)
Newcastle 0-0 Arsenal
(13/08; Premier League)

Nice 1-0 Udinese (30/07; Friendly)
Cadiz 0-0 Udinese
(04/08; Trofeo Ramon de Carranza)
Udinese 2-2 Sporting Lisbon
(06/08; Trofeo Ramon de Carranza)

Key absences

Arsenal: Jack Wilshere (doubt); Abou Diaby

Udinese: None

Players to watch

Arsenal – Andrei Arshavin: The Russian has increased responsibility at the Emirates following the departure of Cesc Fabregas. Arshavin has been linked with the exit door too over the summer, but the former Zenit midfielder has remained keen to stay. Arsenal can feel the benefit of his experience and guile here.

Udinese – Antonio Floro Flores: In goalscoring form in pre-season and boosted by a new five-year contract signed with Udinese in August, Floro Flores will hope to grab what could be a vital away goal for the Italians at the Emirates. Reaching his peak at 28 and fresh from an impressive loan stint with Genoa at the end of last season, the striker was expected to be sold this summer. He has remained though and is a threat.

Match Prediction

Arsenal have traditionally been a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League at the Emirates and even with a shadow cast over the club by Fabregas’ and Nasri’s (expected) departure, the Gunners cannot be underestimated. The London club have been handed a stroke of luck though as they face an Udinese outfit also bereft of the key men that powered their charge last season. Even so, the Italians are a tough proposition and the tie is unlikely to be killed dead in London. Arsenal 2-1 Udinese.

If you want to check out the bookmaker with the highest odds for a bet on Arsenal v Udinese, why not head over to where you can find all current prices for this and other Champions League playoff matches.