Walcott cheers Arsenal before injury bug strikes

Arsenal 1 (Walcott 4) - Udinese 0

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The Independent Online


It says everything you need to know about Arsène Wenger's team at the moment that a lacklustre one-goal victory over the fourth-best team in Serie A was met with some relief last night, at a club that has learnt over the last two years not to take anything for granted.

They started like Champions League old hands but – without the suspended Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri and the injured Jack Wilshere – they limped home glad not to have conceded an away goal for the return leg a week today in north-east Italy.

Last night they lost both Kieran Gibbs (above) to a hamstring injury and Johan Djourou, his half-time replacement, who limped off, which is a worry with Liverpool at home on Saturday and will only serve to put more pressure on Wenger to sign a defender this month..

The Arsenal manager, serving a touchline ban last night, may well attract the censure of Uefa for blatantly passing messages to his assistant Boro Primorac, sat alongside him in the stand, who was on the phone to the bench for much of the game. At the moment, that is probably the least of Wenger's worries.

In the early stages of the first half, Wenger's team looked as if they might take Udinese apart. The Italian team's left side was all but conceded to their hosts. It was from there that Arsenal's goal came after just four minutes.

Alex Song began the move with a nicely judged chip down the wing and into the stride of Aaron Ramsey, who had plenty of time to pick out his cross from the right. Theo Walcott met it first time, steering the ball in at the near post.

The star in Udinese's firmament is Antonio Di Natale and he clipped Wojciech Szczesny's cross bar with a brilliantly struck free-kick on 12 minutes.

Ramsey, another impressive performer in midfield, played in Walcott on 69 minutes. His attempt to sidefoot the ball past the goalkeeper was woeful. In injury time Walcott was played in beautifully by Gervinho and, with only Samir Handanovic to beat, he hit it too close to the goalkeeper, who pulled off a brilliant save.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Djourou, 47; Jenkinson, 55); Song, Ramsey; Walcott, Rosicky (Frimpong, 72), Gervinho; Chamakh. Substitutes not used Fabianski (gk), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arshavin, Bendtner.

Udinese (4-4-2): Handanovic; Ekstrand, Benatia, Danilo, Neuton (Pasquale, 59); Isla, Agyemang-Badu, Asamoah, Armero; Di Natale, Pinzi (Abdi, 88). Substitutes not used Belardi (gk), Denis, Vydra, Doubai, Fabbrini

Referee K Blom (Netherlands).