Arsenal's tough Italian job: Will the Gunners make it into UCL past Udinese?
Arsenal travel to Stadio Friuli to face Udinese in the second leg of the Champions League qualifier tomorrow. To ease the pressure a slender one goal lead that they carry from the first leg will make things easy.
However, it would be naive to think Arsenal can rest on the solitary goal and keep a clean sheet against the counter-attacking quality of Udinese.
This could come down to away goals. What Arsenal need is one more goal which would bury Udinese.
That takes us to Arsenal's inability to find the back of the net as often as one would have expected them to at the start of the season.
With only one goal in 270 minutes Arsenal are struggling for creativity and goals. The Gunners take great pride on their attacking football but of late they have been found wanting.
What has been obvious from the opening fixtures is Aaron Ramsey is not yet ready to take up the offensive duties on his shoulder.
He works hard but is too slow in the build up with poor awareness. He also struggles to keep possession.
Which takes us to Arsene Wenger's sluggish and stingy approach on the transfer market.
It baffles me as to how a manager like Wenger could afford to leave it this late to fill an important role when it became as clear as day weeks ago that both Cesc Fabregas and Nasri could be elsewhere by the end of August.
One has already gone and the other is all but out. Yet the position remains vacant (two if you will) and the manager is still searching frantically with just over a week left.
Intelligent managers know how difficult it's to prize top players away from their respective clubs in the final weeks of a transfer window even more so difficult when it becomes apparent that you've a lot of cash and NEED players badly.
Wenger's indecisiveness has already cost points and now the arrival of prospective signings, if any, hinges on whether Arsenal successfully negotiate the tricky game at Stadio Friuli.
Regular viewers of Serie A will know how tough it's to beat Udinese at home. The team works as a unit without relying on any one individual with all the inspiration coming from captain Antonio Di Natale.
Who will crash out of UCL tomorrow?
Compare that effort to what Marouane Chamakh dished out and you will get confused if Chamakh's more of a centre back playing in an unfamiliar role of a striker.
Thankfully Robin van Persie is back after suspension which should boost the morale of players. It must be said that without adequate support van Persie can't do anything.
Which takes us back to the midfield. Admittedly this is the poorest Arsenal midfield I have seen in recent times.
Jack Wilshere, if he plays, will make it significantly better but what people need to understand is he still has a long way to go before playing further up the field.
For the time being his best position is more centrally and that's where he should be played to extract the best out of him.
On to more positive things, the availability of Gervinho, Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong will give Wenger more options.
Gervinho's availability means Andrey Arshavin will return to the place where he's supposed to be —on the bench.
Tacticts and Gameplan:
Arsenal played a 4-3-3 against Udinese in the first leg. Away from home it could be more reserved and defence-oriented as the main focus is on protecting the lead.
If you concede first at Stadio Friuli there's very little chance that you will make a come back.
Considering Arsenal's current squad and lack of firepower in midfield, they can't concede first and then chase the game which would allow Udinese to counter attack with ease.
Counter attacking is Udinese's strength and you don't want to play it into their games by giving them more space in between lines which is what happens when you're chasing the game.
A counter attacking team thrives when there's space in between lines or behind the defence.
Udinese is one of the best counter attacking sides and they showed in first leg what can happen when you give space in between lines.
It was down to the fact that in the first half Arsenal played a high line and allowed more space and freedom in midfield for the midfield runners of the Italian side which Pablo Armero and Khwada Asamoah brilliantly exploited.
But in the second half Arsenal squeezed the line and played deeper thereby allowing less space for the midfield players to run into and the deeper line nullified the timely runs of Di Natale.
That same tactic has to be applied from the start in the second leg.
The problem though is Udinese is strong on both flanks and Arsenal can't play with youngsters like Carl Jenkinson and expect to hold the fort for full 90 minutes.
Bacary Sagna should play at right back because that's when Theo Walcott looks the most dangerous.
One of the many reasons why he struggled against Liverpool was Sagna's absence on the right hand side.
If Johan Djourou is fit he's the best fit but he has been erratic of late.
Ignaise Miquel can't be subjected to the pressure of such a high-profile game especially considering the fact that his morale might be on the lower side after playing a key role in Liverpool's first goal last weekend.
The home side is a totally different proposition.
Guidolin is a good tactician and last season saw an intriguing 3-5-2 formation from his side. But in the first leg he lined up his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
The first thing you observe here is packed midfield and the number of midfield runners to the opposite box.
Most of the players are physically very strong and quick especially the ones in midfield.
Kwadwo Asamoah is one of the most touted prospects in European football and you can always expect moments of brilliance from this starlet.
Mauricio Isla on the right flank is a fullback-cum-winger. He's always a threat with his all-action style.
He's quick, deceptive and strong and runs past defenders with ease. This is one player who has to be marked tightly.
As always the spearhead of Udinese is Di Natale. Intelligent forward and a goal poacher. He makes late runs into the box and plays off the shoulder of last man.
Di Natale is very dangerous from set pieces and you don't want to give away too many free-kicks close to the penalty box when this man is on the pitch.
Usually gets the shots on target and has the ability to curl the ball into top corners with sheer pace.
After all, he has been the top scorer in Serie A for the last two seasons and when he's having a good game you can expect goals from his boot.
This is why Arsenal need to score another goal. It just takes a free kick for Di Natali to score so even if you keep a clean sheet for 90 minutes a free kick in the injury time could level it up.
Conceding first and chasing the game later is suicidal as that would allow the Italian side more space in between lines which is the perfect recipe for disaster against the counter attacking qualities of Guidolin's side.
Discipline, perseverance, organisation, team work and efficiency will give Arsenal more chance of seeing Udinese off in the second leg but it could be a very tough game considering Arsenal's current plight, problems on and off the pitch, lack of quality in midfield, injuries (especially to first choice centre back) and lack of creativity.
Prediction: 1-1 draw with Di Natale on the score sheet.
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