5 Things We Learnt from Arsenal's UEFA Champions League Qualifier vs. Udinese
The Gunners will be well aware though that the scoreline represents the slenderest of leads in a tie that has so far been fast-paced, lively, and most importantly, still up for grabs.
The Italians, under the leadership of Antonio Di Natale, looked threatening in short bursts in the first-half. But by the second, they seemed to have completely come to grips with Arsene Wenger's tactics, as they continuously broke into the opponents half in search of that crucial yet ultimately elusive away goal.
Arsenal's back-line, despite having to be shuffled a couple of times, stood resolutely and rose to the task, ensuring Arsenal held onto their narrow lead.
There are usually certain observations that can draw from games after the full 90 minutes are up and the "dust has settled." This match is no different.
So, without any further delay, here is a list of 5 things we learnt from Arsenal's first-leg qualifier vs Udinese.
Arsenal Is Still a Fragile Team Plagued with Injuries
Johan Djourou's substitution, after coming on in place of the injury-plagued left-back Kieran Gibbs, nine minutes into the second-half typically epitomized a problem that has continuously plagued Arsenal in recent times: the recurring injury concern of first-team players.
Perhaps it's a symptom of Arsene Wenger's quick pass-and-move philosophy, or his unique training regime. It could also just be plain old hard luck—however, Arsenal's injury record in recent years has been both horrendous and detrimental.
Jack Wilshere, despite playing for the entirety of the preseason, has yet to kick a ball in a competitive fixture owing to a similar sort of ankle injury that kept newly promoted vise-captain Thomas Vermaelen out for the majority of the last campaign. Samir Nasri is in the same boat, though his situation is a bit more challenging given the likelihood of a departure for the Eastlands.
Tomas Rosicky has looked relatively promising so far. But considering his dreadful track record in that department, it seems to only be a matter of time before the Czech playmaker finds himself on the injury table once again.
Coupled with the fact that at least half of Arsenal's midfield has, at one point or another, encountered and dealt with a major injury, it's not hard to envision further injury layoffs in the season ahead. With just two competitive games of the new season being played, it seems as though The Gunners will have to contend with the same injury ghost of seasons past once again.
Arsene Wenger's Team Lacks Quality Squad Depth
Over the years, squad depth has never been a huge issue at Arsenal, as Arsene Wenger has been able to boast both a plethora of talent in the starting XI as well as quality replacements coming off the bench.
The developments of the summer so far and the injuries incurred during the season up till now though, suggests that this is likely to change.
Right back Carl Jenkinson's addition across the pitch on the left side during Tuesday night's game, coupled with debutante defensive midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong replacing Tomas Rosicky who is an attacking playmaker, dangerously implied that Arsenal are digging deep to fill new voids that once never existed.
Wenger has (so far) only added Gervinho and 17 year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain, and their lack of Premier League outings means that the weight of responsibility has only increased on an Arsenal team that is already being ruled out of title contention due to a lack of experience.
Cesc Fabregas' Creative Spark Is Clearly Missed
It was never going to be an easy feet replacing a player that lead the league in assists every year without fail—why Wenger hasn't yet addressed that issue by buying a like-for-like replacement is a story for another day.
Arsene Wenger's team has continuously been heralded as one of the most entertaining teams in England on account of their quick-passing game, coupled with creative lurks into the opposition half by way of a cheeky through ball or quick counter-attack. This though, was lacking against Udinese.
What was glaringly apparent in Tuesday night's game was Arsenal's lack of creativity.
Aaron Ramsey has been tipped by both Cesc Fabregas himself and Arsenal fans world-over to replace the ex-Arsenal captain at the heart of the attack. Though early-career glimpses prove he may yet live up to the billing, last night proved that at least for the moment, the Welshman still has some way to go.
He provided an inch-perfect cross for Walcott in setting up the first goal, and sprayed several beautiful passes throughout the pitch against the Italians. However, a polished final ball was clearly lacking, as his attempts at cutting open the opposition defense were mostly dealt with relative ease.
Jack Wilshere is often seen as the perfect all-round midfielder. However, given his versatility and defensive qualities, the young Englishman is expected to continue on where he left off last season—playing as a deep-lying playmaker deputizing for defensive midfielder Alex Song during his forward ventures. Unfortunately, it is a position seen by many Arsenal fans as one that curtails his natural offensive influence on games.
Though the partnership of Wilshere and Ramsey may solve the creative crisis once the Englishman recovers from his injury, it is clearly evident that so far, Fabregas' void has yet to be filled.
Robin van Persie Is Arsenal's Most Important Player
It's not hard to see why Arsenal struggled to score more than one goal last night without their flying Dutchman.
During the game, Arsenal broke and attacked in numbers, passed around the opposition box and even took a few shots.
Marouane Chamakh's holdup play was average, his composure and availability in front of goal was poor. Gervinho, despite laying off a sweet ball for Walcott deep into the second half, was largely ineffective in front of goal, as he also failed to register a shot on target.
Nicklas Bendtner is close to the exit door despite being named on the bench, and Carlos Vela looks set to complete another loan move to Spain in the near future.
Considering the aforementioned points, coupled with the fact that the team dominated possession yet only managed to score once highlights just how important van Persie is for Arsenal. If last night is an indication of where the team stands in terms of quality, Arsenal fans can expect a big boost upon the Dutchman's return.
The Gunners' striker ended last season with 18 goals—with a goal to game average of 0.95—to finish third in the race for the Golden Boot after only playing in half of the fixtures!
Despite not being an "out and out" goalscorer, his goal scoring record coupled with his creativity—he registered seven assists in the league last season—suggests that he will be looked upon to lead Arsenal as their main player in the upcoming campaign.
Theo Walcott Has Come of Age
Last season, Theo Walcott scored his first English Premier League hat-trick and registered a career-best 9 goals in the league.
It's one thing for the pacey winger to score goals with players as good as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin in the team to provide quality passes and through balls.
But to do so in the absence of those player, as Walcott did last night, means that a player on whom so much hope and expectation was once attached seems to have finally come good.
Theo was easily Arsenal's most potent attacking outlet during last night's tie against Udinese. Besides scoring just four minutes in, Walcott's pace and trickery kept the Italians alert throughout the first-leg, as he continuously took defenders on.
His ability and willingness to cut in towards the center, along with his passing game, has improved tremendously. These skills were on show throughout the 90 minutes.
Though he was unlucky not to get a second goal due to a brilliant reaction save from Udinese keeper Samir Handanovic, his positional sense, as evident by that strike on goal, seems to have improved drastically as well.
Perhaps though the fact that he was being continuously picked out by players like Ramsey, Rosicky and Sagna indicates that Walcott might finally be considered an important player for The Gunners.