Arsenal face one of the most important games of the season against Italian club Udinese in the all-important second leg of the Champions League qualifier, having beaten the Italian side by a goal to nil in the first leg at the Emirates. Though it was a balanced battle between the two sides, the Gunners managed to scrape through with a one-goal advantage and will look to add to it in the return leg.
Both sides have lost key players who were very important for their clubs and are yet to spend big money in the market as well. The presence of the new Barcelona recruits Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez turning out for their former sides would have certainly added a lot of quality to the game but with the duo moving to Barcelona, it means that both clubs would have to battle through to reach the Champions League.
Arsenal will welcome back Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri, who were banned for the last game though it is not yet sure whether or not Nasri will take part in the competition which would make him cup-tied. However, Jack Wilshere is unlikely to be a part of the travelling squad while doubts still remains over the fitness of several players like Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou.
However, despite the injuries, the Gunners do have the quality to win the tie against Udinese and progress to the group stages. Udinese will also be confident of their chances considering they have one of the best strikers in the world and Arsenal's defense is not particularly strong, which could be exploited by the Italian side. The tie could go either way and it should make a fascinating contest between two attacking teams.
This article in on 10 bold predictions concerning Arsenal's game against Udinese in Italy.
There has been plenty of speculation regarding the future of Arsenal's Samir Nasri and though he has been linked with a number of clubs, he still remains an Arsenal player which means that it is possible that Arsene Wenger could use him in the second leg of the Champions League playoffs against Udinese.
According to ESPNSoccernet, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has hinted that there is every chance that City might pull out of the deal for Nasri because if he does represent Arsenal in the game, then he will be ineligible to represent any other team in the Champions League.
However, injuries and the potential losses in losing out on Champions League football this season might mean that Arsene Wenger could utilize the French international in this crunch game against Udinese. Nasri did start against Liverpool but could not help the Gunners get a good result. However, his efforts were appreciated by the Arsenal supporters and should he play this game, there is every chance he could stay for the season and if he is still determined to leave, he will leave on a free transfer in the next season.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been criticized for the lack of spending in the summer but he did sign some promising youngsters in the transfer market. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was signed in the summer by the Gunners, who had to compete with many other clubs for the signature of the teenager. Southampton were reluctant to sell the Englishman but the player's interest in joining Arsenal coupled with the interest from the club made it possible for the transfer of the player from Southampton.
The youngster has only played League One football before joining Arsenal, who could be playing in the Champions League this season if they clear this tricky hurdle. Chamberlain has not yet made his Arsenal debut due to various reasons but there is a good possibility that he could finally make his Gunners debut against Udinese in the important second leg of the tie.
Aaron Ramsey has been touted to become one of the best central midfielders in the world but it is evident that he does need time to find the consistency to be a world-class player and his potential is undeniable. The Wales captain had an impressive preseason but has not been at his best, especially in the last two league games. He is certainly one of the most important players in the current side and the Gunners will need him to be at his best.
Jack Wilshere and Ramsey could form a midfield partnership for the years to come but for the game against Udinese, it is doubtful if Wilshere can take part, which means it is important that Ramsey does have a good game against the tenacious Udinese midfielders. Ramsey prefers to play the game at a slower tempo than some others and that could allow Arsenal to hold more possession and if they can find their spark, then it could be extremely important for the rest of the season.
Ramsey has proven in the past that he is a player, who can perform under pressure and it is possible that he will have an excellent game against Udinese helping them progress to the group stages of the Champions League.
Udinese created some good opportunities to score a vital away goal but the Gunners managed to keep a clean sheet. Antonio Di Natale provided the defenders with plenty of problems and managed to create a number of opportunities for himself and the team. The 33-year-old was in impressive form in the last two seasons and if he can continue to be as creative as he was in the first leg, there is every chance he could score in this encounter.
Also, Arsenal have plenty of injury problems particularly in defence, which means the back line might be tinkered and there is every chance that Ignasi Miquel will start against Udinese. Miquel had a decent game against Liverpool but was responsible for the own goal by Ramsey and will look to improve this game. However, he will come up against a wily old striker, who has the knack of scoring important goals for his club.
Di Natale looked threatening in the first leg against Arsenal and there is every chance that he will score at home against the Gunners.
With the departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Samir Nasri, Russian dynamo Andrei Arshavin will have to step up and deliver the goods for the Gunners. Arshavin is a player of immense quality but has not been consistent for the Gunners. He did not have a good season in 2010-11 but still managed a healthy tally of 10 goals and 17 assists.
Arshavin could play an important role in the game especially if Nasri does not play and after his poor performance against Liverpool, there is every chance that he will live up to his reputation as a game-changer against Udinese. The Arsenal midfielder has scored for the Gunners in several important games like Manchester United, Liverpool and FC Barcelona and with Arsenal facing one of their most important games in the season, he could be the man to score the important away goal for the Gunners.
Though the first leg clash between Arsenal and Udinese did not have many clashes between the team, there could be some heated exchanges in the second leg, considering that both teams have much to lose if they are beaten in the tie. As the match goes on, it is more likely to get ill-tempered and there is every chance that some from both teams could lose their heads if their team is behind in the tie.
Arsenal have collected two red cards in two league games so far, with Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong the duo who got sent off. However, Wenger would have instructed his players to keep their cool and with Udinese also a team not known for rash challenges, it could be a game which could have its share of heated exchanges but the referee will hopefully not need to brandish a red card.
Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovic is regarded as a fine goalkeeper in the Serie A and he was excellent for the Italian side against the Gunners at the Emirates. Handanovic made a brilliant save from Theo Walcott, which could still be crucial considering that Arsenal only have a one-goal advantage going into the second leg. The goalkeeper has to be alert for the entire 90 minutes because any concentration lapse could be crucial in the tie, which is delicately poised with the Gunners just ahead at the halfway stage.
Wojciech Szczesny has been impressive for the Gunners since he established himself as the first-choice keeper at Arsenal. He had a good preseason and also commands the defence. He will need to be at his best to ensure that the Gunners progress to the Champions League group stage. Szczesny was one of the best players for Arsenal against Udinese and should he keep another clean sheet, Arsenal are certain to progress.
Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner was one of the many players who was certain to leave in the summer but entering into the last week of the transfer window, it seems like there exists the possibility that the striker could stay at the Emirates. While some players like Emmanuel Eboue and Denilson are not in Arsenal's current squad, Bendtner remains a part of the squad and despite missing all preseason games, he has trained at London Colney with the rest of the squad.
Bendtner did make an appearance for the Gunners in the Premiership against Liverpool though he was not able to prevent the loss to the Reds. However, Wenger has shown faith in the striker and with the Danish international currently ahead of Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order, there is every chance Wenger could convince the striker to continue at the Emirates.
Even if Bendtner does want to quit, it is likely that Wenger will use the striker in the game against Udinese, making him cup-tied for this season, but since the striker has not yet found a new club, there is a chance that he could stay with the club for this season.
Arsenal did not have a good game against Liverpool in the league but if not for Thomas Vermaelen's impressive performance, they could have been embarrassed further by the Reds, who won the game 2-0. Vermaelen is a natural leader and he was excellent in marshaling the defence until an error from Miquel resulted in an own goal.
The Gunners will need Vermaelen to be at his best if they are to progress and they did miss him badly in the last season. The Belgian international is one of the best defenders in the world and also has the fight and passion, which is important for Arsenal. Also, he could be playing alongside two teenagers in defense against Udinese, Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel, and his experience will be vital to the team.
If Arsenal are to progress, it will take an impressive performance from Vermaelen, who is back to his best form and he could be the player of the game, helping the Gunners to progress to the Champions League stages.
Arsenal had a good result against Udinese in the first leg at the Emirates, where they managed to beat Udinese with a slender lead provided by Theo Walcott. The important aspect of that win was that they did not concede the crucial away goal, which means that if they do score in the second leg, they stand to have a good chance of victory. Udinese also play good attacking football, which means that they present a strong challenge to the Gunners, who are not in the best form.
However, it is likely that Wenger will not instruct his team to stay back and defend and considering that they still have quality players like Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin, there is every chance that the Gunners will score. The Arsenal defence is not very experienced and Thomas Vermaelen has to have an excellent game for the Gunners to progress. It is likely that Udinese will score at least once and there is a good possibility that it will be a scoring draw