Udinese Calcio 1 - 2 Arsenal
Great performance, great win.
In just those four words you can explain the team's excellent victory in an hostile stadium in Udine, Italy. Arsenal, the "crisis club" as labelled by the press, were billed as underdogs before the match despite the slender 1-0 lead we took to Italy.
Despite our young side, we started the match brilliantly and were clearly making our best performance of the season so far. Udinese though were no pushovers either and were led brilliantly by their inspirational captain Di Natale - the leading scorer in Serie A for two years running.
The game was played at an electrifying tempo with fast end to end football, excellent attacking but not the defending you'd expect from either team. Udinese threatened every time they attacked and hit the post twice, but the best chance of the half came after great work from Gervinho found Walcott in acres of space in the box, however the Slovenian goalkeeper Handanovic made an excellent save to add to his one's form the first leg.
Minutes later we were made to pay as that man Di Natale peeled off Djourou and found space in the box before making an amazing header that looped over Wojciech and brushed off the post before settling into the net. Not the best defending from Arsenal (again) giving acres of space to numerous players throughout the build up to the goal.
After the goal Arsenal's youthful team struggled to maintain it's composure and in the end half time was warmly welcomed. During the break the energetic Frimpong, who had enjoyed yet another impressive performance, was replaced by Rosicky.
Arsenal started the second half with much more zest to their attacking play and, after yet more good play by Gervinho, new captain Van Persie popped up at the right time and place to level the game and get the crucial away goal.
The goal seemed to deflate the Italians but they were given a lifeline after one of the assistants gifted them a "generous" penalty, after judging Vermaelen to have handled. Up stepped Di Natale who hit the ball hard and high to the left of Szczesny's goal. But, out of the bloom, the Pole flicked out his arm to make an excellent save right out of the top draw.
The penalty save was perfect. The Italians were completely deflated and Arsenal rejuvenated. Not to mention the previously brilliant Di Natale being demoralised and ineffective for the rest of the match.
For the remaining half an hour Arsenal passed the ball expertly with Ramsey, Rosicky and Van Persie never losing the ball. We added a third after good play by Jenkinson keeping possesion, before great combination play between Sagna and Walcott led to Theo finishing brilliantly. 2-1 to Arsenal, 2 away goals and game over.
Man of the Match - Wojciech Szczesny. The penalty save encapsulated an excellent performance in only his third champions league appearance and, despite a great goal he never looked like being beaten by anything. His confidence and control of his area demands performances from the rest of the team and to hear the fans chanting his name was brilliant. £20million for De Gea? I know who I'd prefer in goal on Sunday.
Positives - Finally a good performance this season, and something to smile about for an Arsenal fan. The reaction the the result has improved the mood of the fans and will hopefully inspire the team to get a result on Sunday. Jenkinson was solid and excellent on the ball, whilst at left back Sagna (despite being troubled in the first half by the skilful Isla) stepped up a gear in the second half and showed why he is regarded as one of the best full backs in the world.
Song and Frimpong showed that, despite news of a £20+ million offer for M'Vila, we are competent in holding midfield (but we are in desperate need for one on Sunday) compared to other positions. Ramsey was superb too, and his 92% pass completion rate is astonishing, even better when you consider that 54 of his 71 passes we medium to long distance. Rosicky gave his best performance for Arsenal since his injury and if he performs like that every week we've gained an experienced player of real quality.
Up front, Gervinho looked threatening every time he was on the ball and his dribbling skills will give us another dimension this season. Walcott, playing on both wings was much better than at the weekend and, although he should have scored in the first half, his goal was well deserved. Between the wingers was the new captain Van Persie who gave a great captains performance. He led form the front and got his goal with his only chance, scoring at a vital time too.
Negatives - Despite all the positives, the fact that we had to field such a youthful side shows the threadbare nature of our side, and the lack of options on the bench was worrying. The defence looked anything but solid in the first half and another defensive error led to their goal. Undoubtedly we still need a centre back and Sagna cannot continue to fill in at left back either, but with the Nasri deal completed and a big pay day secured by qualifying we are free to spend our money and have a week to secure quality players for the club.
Szczesny 8.5 Sagna 7.5 Vermaelen 7 Djourou 6 Jenkinson 7 Song 7.5 Frimpong 7 Ramsey 8 Gervinho 8 Walcott 8 Van Persie 7.5
Subs: Rosicky 7.5 Traore & Arshavin N/A
Here's to Sunday!