So, was this a lucky, undeserved win or was it winners finding a way to get a result when not playing particularly well?
I think neither statement does justice to such a game and would reflect more on the attitude of the opinion holder rather than the match itself.
As expected, this was an open game with both sides coming out with a positive attitude. Some might say it was too open and exciting!
Arsenal couldn’t have expected a better start as the Udinese high line was caught as early as the fourth minute. Sagna dinked it over the top for Ramsey to run onto. The play was squeezed into a fifteen yard area, so the Welshman got plenty of time and space. Theo got a clean, unmarked run into the box and finished an immaculate cross with a deft touch despite the awkward height.
At that moment, who would have thought that was going to be the high point of Arsenal’s night!?
The Gunners dominated the early exchanges and I got a feeling the visitors were showing too much respect to the hosts. This possession didn’t lead to any clear cut chances as the final ball was always lacking.
In the 13th minute Di Natale rattled the crossbar with an excellent free-kick. From that point on the Italians started gaining confidence and created better chances than the Gunners.
Arsenal were trying to play a high line and a possession game but the players were making far too many mistakes and conceding possession cheaply. They also lacked the technique, vision, and understanding to benefit from the space available in the attacking third.
Udinese were content with using the counter attack as the main weapon and it almost paid off in the 27th minute when Song lost possession just outside the Udinese box from a corner. The visitors played one pass and Armero was able to run straight past the Arsenal full-backs who were rooted to their spots just inside the Arsenal half.
Thankfully, the Colombian shot close to Szczesny who was able to make the save. The rebound fell to another Udinese player who laid it up for Di Natale, but the Serie A top scorer’s attempt was rather lame and was blocked by Song before Szczesny finally gathered the ball.
All through the first half, both sides gave their opponents plenty of space in front of the defence and on the flanks but neither had the quality to make it count, except the all important goal.
At half-time, Djourou came on for the injured Gibbs as Vermaelen moved to left back. For Udinese, an extra dollop of confidence was introduced for the diffidence that they’d started with.
The Italians pressed Arsenal higher up at the beginning of the second half and forced Koscielny into a mistake four minutes in as the Gunners struggled to bring the ball out. The defender gave the ball away with a rushed pass but once again Di Natale took an extra touch in the box allowing Djourou to slide in and make a block.
It was all Udinese for the next 20-25 minutes. Arsenal weren’t able to handle their pressing and struggled to string together any kind of passes.
The Gunners also lacked the right defensive shape and it allowed Udinese to get into the attacking third with relative ease. Only vigilant defending by the back four and some tracking back by Song and Ramsey kept Arsenal in the game when it appeared that the equalizer was only a matter of time.
It was another case where the defence looked terrible but the defenders were not at fault. I also want to clarify that in the preview I didn’t wish to imply the defenders were poor but I had exactly the scenario we saw in mind. Udinese were able to run rings around the defence because the shape of the team was really poor. Arsenal could never keep hold of the ball even when they worked hard to win it back.
The players kept rushing forward every time possession was regained but the defence was almost always forced to hoof it forward. Time and again two midfielders and the attackers were caught in a no man’s land as the ball came back within seconds.
It was another classic case of a system that wasn’t working which lead to desperate defending – credit to the back four for pulling it off – and an air of inevitability that we have become used to in recent games. This time the goal didn’t arrive but that does not mean the problems don’t exist.
The fact that Djourou went off less than ten minutes after he came on didn’t help. Jenkinson looked nervous but was dogged and tackled well.
Arsenal regained some composure and the game evened out in the final 15-20 minutes after Frimpong came on for Rosicky who hobbled off with an injury. The youngster conceded a dangerous free-kick soon after coming on, that brought a big save out of Szczesny, but did really well after that.
Ramsey and Frimpong showed a lot of composure and Arsenal were able to bring the ball out from defence in a much better manner. Gervinho and Walcott also contributed with their pace, movement, and ball retention.
Indeed, Arsenal were unlucky not to score a second when a lovely run from Gervinho led to a wonderful chance for Theo but Handanovic came up with a big save.
On the balance of play Udinese must be disappointed they didn’t get more out of this game but will feel confident of getting a result at home. Arsenal will have to improve and do much better. Wenger is playing a system he just doesn’t have players for. If he can’t get the right players soon enough he has to revise the style of play.
Szczesny: Decision making was fairly good, saved whatever came his way, looked like had the long range strikes well covered even when they flew wide. Even his distribution has improved.
Sagna: Another hard working display. Bombed forward at every opportunity in the first half. Needed better end product though. A lot of fire-fighting in the second. Did well in the individual battles on the flank.
Koscielny: Made a couple of mistakes, one could have been fatal. But otherwise he had a decent game. Tracked the runs well and didn’t allow a lot through the middle.
Vermaelen: Did well under pressure. Positioning was good and covered the goal well when Udinese played down the middle.
Gibbs: Was looking impressive till he got injured.
Djourou: One excellent block. Wasn’t on the pitch long enough.
Jenkinson: Did well considering it wasn’t on his natural side. Looked a bit nervous but stuck to his task and chased his man if he got past. Tackling was impressive.
I thought the big problem was the ease with which Udinese were able to move from their defence to the attacking third. The shape of the team was at fault but the defenders can’t be blamed for that. It was surprising to see them back off from Di Natale which allowed him to play one-twos with his team-mates that created a number of half-chances.
On the whole, they covered for each other and prevented clean strikes on goal for most parts. The centre-backs did well against the aerial balls.
Song: Another grinding display. Covered a lot of ground and was always there to help the back four. Got forward in the early exchanges but wasn’t able to make anything of it.
Rosicky: Probably the weakest Arsenal player on the pitch. Had some impressive moments but wasn’t consistent. A player in his position in this system has to offer a lot more to the defence and would have to work a lot harder to help retain possession. Rosicky was caught on the ball at times, gave it away with hopeful passes, and didn’t offer himself to receive a ball as often as one would have liked.
Ramsey: Can’t fault his work rate but he can do with better awareness. Good assist. His composure towards the end helped the team regain equality on the pitch.
Frimpong: Excellent physical presence and power. Must avoid needless fouls.
Udinese gave the midfielders too much time and space in the early exchanges. But they didn’t create enough quality chances. In the second half they really struggled against the high pressing until Frimpong came on.
Walcott: Good instincts for the goal. Had a couple of other chances where he might have done better. A couple of good crosses but has to do better on that front.
Chamakh: Didn’t offer enough in terms of pressing, passing, presence, or movement.
Gervinho: Always looked threatening when he got on the ball. His confidence and running were impressive even if his touch or finishing wasn’t at the highest level.
After watching this game it felt like Chamakh wasn’t needed at all. Playing Gervinho down the middle with Rosicky on the left and Frimpong in the midfield might have given Arsenal the extra man to retain possession better when under pressure. It would also have given the Gunners a better counter-attacking threat.