Arsenal Win But Udin’t Make It Easy
We’re still immersed in boxes so Limpar Assist dropped this match report from last night over
UEFA Champions League Play-off First Leg
Tuesday 16th August, 2011
Arsenal F.C. 1 – 0 Udinese Calcio
Line up: Szczęsny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Rosický, Ramsey, Gervinho, Walcott, Chamakh
Arsenal needed a win tonight like Tottenham High Road needs a water cannon. Thanks to a disciplined team performance and a smart early goal, they got it.
In a week that saw the club peppered with high profile departures (Manu, we hardly knew ye), unwarranted bans, ‘fan unrest’ and p*ssy tweets – the first home game of the season was not set-up like the sun kissed cake walk it sometimes can be. Metaphorical storm clouds circled above the Emirates – a shitstorm was brewing in other words – and Arsenal needed to work sharply to make their cover.
With an estimated £25 million in qualification money and TV rights at stake – and not to mention the attraction of Champions League football to potential signings over the next two weeks – this tie is huge.
Arsène was banned from the touchline; newly crowned Club Captain Robin van Persie was banned from the pitch, and fickle Marseille mistress Samir Nasri was banned from the entire fiefdom of Highbury & Islington. It was a real squad effort that was required to do the business tonight – and a real feeling around the ground of a whole club united against difficult odds.
Endeavour, sweat and good discipline won the day for Arsenal in the end but it was a smart run and near post finish from Theo Walcott inside 4 minutes that gave them the all-important edge to protect – and a head start on the score sheet to take to the Friuli Stadium next week.
The game deciding move in the 4th minute lit up the tie with incision and skill – and lit up the stands too with a mood-lifting, restorative glow. Sagna’s wide-awake, cheeky chip over the Udine back line was like cold gin on a muggy afternoon – thrown in your face at an increasingly irksome picnic. Ramsey licked his lips, looked up and hit a swerving little heat-seeker of a cross low to the front post. Theo Walcott and Gervinho queued impatiently to ping it past the goalkeeper and quench the whole stadium with the first European goal of the campaign.
Encouraging to see Ramsey making that positive run outside and doubly so to see two of our forwards equally well positioned to gobble up the chance. If Theo missed it, it was Gervinho’s. He didn’t. Well played, Arsenal; and One Nil to The Arsenal.
Not long after and it should’ve been two. Gervinho, again excellently positioned – this time at the back post – failed to connect with his falling volley attempt from a Walcott corner. This was a sharper chance mind as a well-won Laurent Koscielny flick-on skimmed toward both he and Thomas Vermaelan, but neither man could find the telling touch.
Arsenal had plenty of shots blocked in the remainder of the first half but the early pressure eventually dissipated and Arsenal were, somewhat uncharacteristically, less willing to go hell for leather on the overload looking for that second goal.
In that respect, coupled with our clean sheet last Saturday – and the fact that our defence didn’t concede a goal from a corner all preseason – this Arsenal are taking on some sort of worrying retro ‘90s chic. Italian opposition in Europe… fight for the lead and fight for the high ground once you have it – ring a bell? But rather than a George Graham side in its pomp, this was an Arsène Wenger side with a cold motor, stalling in the driveway while new parts warmed-up (and a few more were ordered in – maybe – if yer lucky).
“We’ll take 1 nils!” has long come the cry from a set of fans stung by more than their fair share of 4-4 draws in recent seasons. If anyone else has ever gotten a fair share of those.
I think there is a new emphasis on defensive discipline. We see it in the new rigid zonal set-up on corners, and tonight, when some fans (the same who would ‘take 1 nils’ I suppose) were baying for a second goal at the end of the game – there were less gambles taken, less runs committed – I think – than maybe there would’ve been this time last season.
Further up the pitch the three Arsenal forwards played ‘getting to know you’. In the opening fifteen minutes they were at their most difficult to play; spread wide and swapping flanks dangerously. As the game wore on they bunched up, sometimes all going toward the ball at once. Understandings and partnerships are still being built.
In the case of Gervinho who is a slightly, shall we say, idiosyncratic runner that might take some doing. A man to my left offered; “Ees not left-footed, ees not right-footed – so what is ee?!” Actually, ee’s two-footed, I think, but sometimes, I admit, it’s hard to tell. He certainly has an awkward dribbling style, as Big Al noted in preseason. On the plus side this looks like an absolute nightmare to play against. Think fighting Druken Master Wong Fei-hung, on the deck of a ship.
The clean sheet wasn’t for the want of trying on Udinese’s part of course. This is the biggest tie the club has played for years and the impassioned, operatically conducted “Little Zebras” had plenty to sing about. In fact, they even broke into Cab Calloway at one point – which sounds rather wonderful in a football ground. I could almost smell the Espresso and pink newspapers…
Anyway, so the Vermaelen Koscielny partnership was given another testing run out and they came through very well again. Gibbs was excellent before he went off injured and his replacement wasn’t too bad either before he went off injured too *GROAN*. Physio ‘musical chairs’ stopped on a wide-eyed, puff-chested Carl Jenkinson who stepped up and grabbed his home debut with both hands. His Arsenal family ties got him a great reception. He was tested half a dozen times by good opposition – and won his battles admirably.
Emmanuel Frimpong came on and looked good again. Arsene’s programme notes point to a big contribution from him this year – his name again uttered in the same breath as the injured Jack Wilshere’s.
(As an aside, watching Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain warm up with Frimpong at half-time you can see that AOC is quite a player. He was clearly trying to impress his new crowd but he was hammering the ball at poor old Frimmy, who I don’t think got the memo. The boy has breathtaking technique – predictably, I suppose.)
When the backline was breached you have to say that Szczęsny looked huge in goal. He is undoubtedly a game-winning keeper in the making.
Performance wise there’s a lot to build on from the back, and lots to work on in the middle and up top. The creative spark requires understanding and familiarity to give and receive super-quickly. More games like this and that will come.
Half-Time in the tie then but a big, big result for the club in many ways. The whole of Arsenal united under tumultuous, intensely nervy circumstances and a hard-fought win at the dawn of this new Eboue-less era, couldn’t have been more poignant for the players nor more welcome for the fans. Like Manu from heaven.
And you already know the one about teams winning when they’re not playing well, don’t you.
Posted on August 17, 2011, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer, Transfer Gossip and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 375 Comments.