Life after Cesc Fabregas began for Arsenal with a slender 1-0 victory over Udinese in their Champions League qualifier, thanks to Theo Walcott’s early goal.
Arsene Wenger will be pleased with the result and the importance of keeping a clean sheet, but there was little about the performance to suggest Arsenal have what it takes to be successful in this competition.
The Arsenal side taking the pitch at the Emirates was not one fans were used to seeing, with Fabregas finally reunited with Barcelona, Jack Wilshire missing through injury and Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri suspended it showed in the disjointed performance.
Despite going one down early on, Udinese came close to scoring a vital away goal on several occasions, as veteran captain Antonio di Natale looked to expose the weakness in the Gunners’ back line.
The 33-year-old hit the woodwork twice in the first half and forced Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczesny to save smartly to hold onto their narrow advantage.
The odds on the north Londoners winning the Champions League for the first time in their history have been lengthened to 25/1 following their victory last night, and on this performance they look a long way off challenging the top teams in the competition.
The Gunners still remain favourites at 2/9 over the Italians to reach the group stage, but judging on the way Udinese took the game to the home side, a 3/1 bet on them reaching the next stage may interest some punters.
The decisive meeting between the sides will be played next Wednesday when van Persie will return to the side, but with Wilshire potentially still missing; Arsenal will be worried of the threat posed by the Italian side.
Despite being 12/5 outsiders to win on the night, in Di Natale Udinese have Serie A’s top goalscorer for the last two seasons and if he puts in a similar performance next week Arsenal’s shaky defence could struggle to contain him.