Allen Hamilton

What: Champions League Playoff Round (second leg)
Who: Udinese (0) vs Arsenal (1) (first leg scores in brackets)
When: Wednesday 24th August 2011, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stadio Friuli, Udine, Italy

Reason to Be Hopeful

Udinese performed well at the Emirates in the first leg and would have been disappointed to go back to Italy defeated. However, the nature of the loss, a narrow 1-0, gives much cause for hope that it can be quickly reversed at the Stadio Friuli. Adding to just the single goal that must be overturned is another encouraging factor – the chaos that appears to be unfolding at Arsenal.

But the Italians will take to the pitch with a warning from coach Francesco Guidolin ringing in their ears. "The second leg will be more difficult than the first", said the Udinese boss, also pointing out that 1-0 behind is actually in many ways a dangerous scoreline. "It will be more difficult than the first meeting for a number of reasons: we lost 1-0, it is a dangerous result and we face one of the most powerful teams in Europe. Arsenal are a top club in the very first bracket."

The Serie A side threatened at the Emirates and showed a sharpness which suggests they well understand the levels their coach has urged them to hit. Strong at home and looking to have adequately replaced their summer sales, Udinese will go at Arsenal from the off, scenting the blood that is flowing from the English side off the back of player and fan unrest. Just one goal would be enough to force extra time, but Udinese will be aiming for more and are desperate to make the Champions League group stage.

Does Arsene Still Know?

A 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool was not the best way to warm up for the second leg of a vital Champions League qualifier, but Arsenal must shrug off their weekend blow and concentrate on the task at hand. Boss Arsene Wenger is being urged to spend money on new signings from all quarters, however the Frenchman will place his faith in his current charges to navigate the difficult waters of a trip to Udine.

Wenger is facing the most difficult period of his 15-year reign at Arsenal, with fans questioning what was previously an accepted fact, that "Arsene knows best". A failure to strengthen despite Cesc Fabregas’ departure being heavily signposted and the clear need both for a central defender and experienced midfielder, has left the Frenchman vulnerable.

Making the Champions League group stage however would buy Wenger and Arsenal some respite. The Gunners must lean heavily on Robin van Persie, the captain who was not on hand in the first leg due to suspension. Missing defender Laurent Koscielny through injury is a big blow, but Wenger well knows that depending on defensive brilliance in Italy may be a fool’s errand and Arsenal’s best hope will be to add to their advantage.

Recent form

Cadiz 0-0 Udinese (04/08; Friendly)
Udinese 2-2 Sporting Lisbon
(06/08; Friendly)
Arsenal 1-0 Udinese
(16/08; Champions League)

Newcastle United 0-0 Arsenal
(13/08; Premier League)
Arsenal 1-0 Udinese
(16/08; Champions League)
Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool (20/08; Premier League)

Key absences

Udinese: None

Arsenal: Sebastian Squillaci, Jack Wilshere (doubt), Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky, Johan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs

Players to watch

Udinese – Samir Handanovic: The Slovenian goalkeeper is one of the best in Serie A and has been targed by opponents Arsenal at points in the last two years. While Udinese need to push forward to overturn a 1-0 deficit, Arsenal will certainly have their chances and Handanovic will be called upon to keep his side in the game. If the 27-year-old can keep a clean sheet then Udinese will have a solid foundation upon which to build.

Arsenal – Gervinho: The Ivory Coast forward is a special type of player at the Emirates, a new arrival, of which there have been precious few this summer. But Gervinho demonstrates more than ever Wenger’s words that "I just want to do what is best for the team and buy the right players." And the former Lille man has already shown glimpses of why he is the right kind of player; he can show more here.

Match Prediction

Udinese are quietly confident that they can add to Arsene Wenger’s problems by putting Arsenal to the sword and progressing to the Champions League group stage. For Arsenal, morale will have suffered through off-the-pitch troubles and player unrest, but there remains significant quality within the squad, enough to come away from Italy with a positive result. The Gunners can scrape through, though they will need to score to do so. Udinese 1-1 Arsenal.

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