Arsenal began life without former captain and talisman Cesc Fabregas with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Italian outfit Udinese in the first-leg of their Champions League play-off tie.
It took just four minutes for the Gunners to force a breakthrough, Aaron Ramsey latching onto a through ball before his pin perfect cross was volleyed home by England international Theo Walcott, who was looking to make an impression having been left out of the starting XI for Arsenal’s Premier League opener against Newcastle United at the weekend. Walcott provided the majority of Arsenal’s attacking threat, drifting into the central striker’s role on numerous occasions to good effect.
The most notable arrival at the Emirates this summer, the Ivory Coast international Gervinho, showed glimpses of why Arsene Wenger was happy to part with around £10.5m for the striker. His intelligent movement and willingness to take on players is sure to see him prove a hit with the Arsenal faithful.
Aaron Ramsey has a long way to go to fill the boots of Fabregas in the heart of the Gunners midfield, but looks sure to thrive with more game time this season. The Welsh international dictated proceedings with his impressive range of passing and was involved in almost everything Arsenal created going forward.
There was plenty of cause for concern defensively however, as Arsenal looked increasingly vulnerable when Udinese broke on the counter attack. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny forced to pull of an instinctive save to deny Pablo Armero, who had strolled past the hesitant Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna with ease.
At times, it was far from the free flowing football we have come to expect under Arsene Wenger, with the play breaking down on various occasions in dangerous areas of the field, shifting more pressure on to an already shaky and unconvincing Gunners backline.
The second-half saw little in the way of goal scoring chances for the home side, looking increasingly nervy as Udinese warmed to their task. However, Gervinho again linked up well with Walcott in the final minutes, only for Walcott to be denied by the fingertips of Samir Handanovic, a save that could prove crucial in the context of the two-legged tie.
A one goal advantage to take to Italy and a second consecutive clean sheet is still unlikely to satisfy Arsenal boss Wenger, who will be aware that his side must improve between now and the vital second-leg clash next Wednesday if they are to successfully progress to the Champions League group stages.