Udinese 1 Arsenal 2: Wojciech Szczesny makes his mark
Football is a sport that leaves its fervent followers with memories that dwell in their heads for years to come. Football fans keep memories of breathtaking goals like Thierry Henry’s goal against Tottenham, epic headbutts like Pope Zizou’s infamous classic on Marco Materazzi, flying Chinese Shaolin kicks like Jonny Evans fatality on Didier Drogba, awkward own goals like Lauren’s own goal against Manchester City, theatrical dives like Yuri Zhirkov’s movie audition when Chelsea played Manchester United and horrible goal keeping howlers like Fabianski’s error against Porto. Wojciech Szczesny added his name to the list with a save that will sink in the hearts of gooners worldwide.
Yesterday, Arsenal was faced with a do-or-die situation when they visited Frulli with the uphill task of avoiding defeat at all costs with the aim of qualifying to the Champions League for the 14th season in a row.
Wenger was handed a two-match ban by UEFA but I was perplexed when I saw him on the bench with his faithful sidekick, Patty Ol’ Rice. Wenger had it in mind to strengthen his midfield so Frimpong got the nod above Rosicky as I predicted in yesterday’s post.
Gervinho enjoyed a full weekend’s rest thanks to his man-killing slap on Joey Hitler so he showed very good signs of sharpness when he was on the pitch. Early on, he evaded a marker to tee up RVP but the ball was intercepted.
Walcott created some space for himself outside the box before stinging the keeper’s hands with a shot. Udinese threatened in attack but di Natale’s goal was ruled off for an offside. A correct decision.
Udinese was enjoying a good spell of possession and almost made it count. Giampiero Pinzi passed the ball to Udinese’s captain on the edge of the box and di Natale wasted no time in crossing it into the danger area. A bloke nodded the ball and it hit the post but Kwadwo Asamoah was offside when he attacked the ball so a free kick was awarded to Arsenal.
Jenkinson was adjudged to have fouled an Udinese chap on the right hand side of the area so they were awarded a free kick by the ref. That was the same position where Tranquillo Barnetta scored Joe Hart in that European Championship qualifier in June so di Natale decided to fire it straight at goal instead of creating a chance for his teammates but Szczesny was equal to the challenge with a good save.
Antonio di Natale was giving the Arsenal defense a torrid time and it was him again that had Udinese’s next shot on target. A pass from a bloke called Badu arrived at his feet, he lashed one at Arsenal’s goalie but he made another decent save.
Song waltzed forward and exchanged passes with Ramsey but he killed a bird with his proposed effort. Di Natale showed why he was a constant thorn to the flesh of Arsenal’s defense by smashing the post with a first time volley.
Sagna was playing in the uncomfortable left back role but he showed good skill by making mince meat of an Udinese defender before passing the ball to Gervinho but it was intercepted by another defender.
Arsenal was getting a foothold of the game and it showed in the chances they created. Ramsey and Sagna worked well on the left before feeding Walcott. The winger used his left foot to cross the ball but it was headed away from danger and came straight to RVP who smashed it with his choco-leg. The ball went over the bar though.
The best chance of the game from an Arsenal point of view arrived late on when Vermaelen cleared the ball out of the defense only to get tackled in the follow-up. The ref waved play on so Gervinho decided to play the role of Harry Potter as he started executing magic tricks on all the defenders and they watched helplessly as he dribbled past them.
With the goal on sight and Walcott available for a pass, Gervinho unselfishly teed up the Englishman with the hope that Arsenal was about to go one up but the winger fired the ball straight at Samir Handanovic. RVP followed it up with a shot but Handanovic was on ‘hand’ to make a double save.
Shortly after making those saves, Udinese went on the counter and were very close to making arsenal rue the missed chances. A bloke sent a through ball to You-Know-Who (Udinese’s Lord Voldemort, di Natale) and he used his left boot to send a shot across goal. Szczesny dived to his near post and made a good save.
Udinese’s one-man army continued his barrage on Arsenal’s defense and it finally paid off when Giampiero Pinzi sent a cross to di Natale’s path. With no Arsenal defender close to him, he used his experience to send a dipping header across Szczesny’s goal. Arsenal’s goalie watched with despair as the ball hit the post before entering the goal.
Udinese had leveled the tie on aggregate and it was Lord Voldemort himself that broke the deadlock. While Arsenal fans on my BlackBerry Messenger changed their statuses revealing their anger and frustration, the commentators added more fire to the fuel that was burning rapidly:
“Arsenal’s youth on show again but it took Italian experience to bring the game wide open. A 30-year old Giampiero Pinzi pass to a 32-year old Antonio di Natale.”
That was it for the first half and Wenger had to show his mettle again because a loss to Udinese would have been disastrous to him, his players, the fans, the Board and it would have hampered Arsenal’s potential signings.
At the start of the 2nd half, Wenger summoned Tomas Rosicky to add bite to the midfield in place of the inexperienced Ghanaian Mohican.
Everybody expected the Gunners to panic early on but it was the exact opposite because there was this air of confidence in their play.
Song was under extreme pressure in the midfield but he showed his amazing footwork and close control to shove off the threat of some Udinese blokes before chipping the ball for Walcott. The winger decided to sidefoot the ball from well outside the area so it was easy pickings for Samir Handanovic.
Arsenal’s black dreadlocked Harry Potter with the big forehead started again after receiving the ball from a deflected Rosicky shot with his Expecto Patronums and the Udinese players watched again as he waltzed past them. His final ball found Robin van Persie and Arsenal’s captain and Flying Dutchman did the rest with a neat left-footed finish.
Arsenal had scored the goal that was needed to calm everybody’s nerves down so Udinese was faced with the monumental task of scoring two more goals to win the game and they had a chance to score another goal in an acrimonious fashion.
A player crossed a corner kick into Udinese’s hand and after a scramble in the box, the ball hit Vermaelen’s hand. Rosicky cleared the ball away to launch a counter attack but the ref stopped play, pointed to the spot, searched for Vermaelen before brandishing the card to him.
Van Persie went to protest but Vermaelen was silent because he seemed guilty. The fact that he looks like an assassin with the low cut didn’t do well to help his cause.
Minutes after Arsenal had gone ahead on aggregate, Lord di Voldemort had another chance to bring Udinese closer to Champions League qualification with Italy, the Udinese fans, Francesco Guidolin and his fellow death eaters…..teammates watching with hope.
Di Natale wiped away the sweat from his face before gearing himself up for the spot kick. He rattled Szczesny’s bar from 35 yards a week ago so 12 yards was more than close enough to bury the ball at the back of the goalie’s net but Arsenal’s keeper had other plans.
With Szczesny’s eyes firmly fixed on the ball, di Natale smashed an unstoppable shot but as the saying goes:
“When an unstoppable shot meets an immovable object, something has to give.”
Szczesny turned out to be that object and the save was the W in world class. With Fabianski crying out loud that he wants to fight to the end to win his place back from Szczesny, that save would have done enough to tell Flyin Fabbi that the bench is not a bad place after all.
Szczesny said this after the game but I felt that it was befitting to put it here:
“I felt a little silly after the save because I gave a lot of stick to Di Natale before the kick was taken. It’s something that shouldn’t be said on TV but it worked and he came to me after the game and and said ‘well done’ so I felt a little bit stupid because he’s quite a nice guy”
Gervinho still had a trick or two left in his forehead…..the bag, so he created a chance to score again but Walcott was free on the left hand side. He wanted all the glory this time but he made a mess of his effort on goal.
The next goal was going to be the most important but it was heartwarming to know that it was scored by Arsenal. Rosicky fed Jenkinson who switched play to the left hand flank. Vermaelen teed up Sagna before he connected well with Theo Walcott.
With Udinese playing with the unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, there was certainly going to be a point when they’ll be exposed for the lack of standing full backs. Walcott used his pace to evade the wing back and was closing in on goal and one of the center backs was trying to close down on him. He sent Handanovic the wrong way and the joyous screams from the Arsenal fans in Frulli could be heard on the Moon.
Di Natale had one last effort but it went wide. There were late substitutions for Arsenal as Traore replaced Harry Potter….Gervinho while AA23 replaced TH 14.
With the game dead and dusted, Arsenal wanted to add insult to injury by scoring a third goal but Handanovic had his pride to protect. Van Persie created a chance for himself before letting one fly. Handanovic saved the ball but the follow up went to Traore but his own attempt was weak.
At the sound of the final whistle, Antonio di Voldemort looked liked a very disappointed figure but the Gunners congratulated him for his stellar performance against them in both legs. It’s unfortunate to know that a player of such class is already in the twilight years of his career so a move elsewhere can hardly be on the cards. I wish him and his death eaters all the best in their Europa League adventure.
Szczesny (9.5) made saves of outstanding quality and topped it up with one of the best penalty saves I’ve witnessed as a football fan
Jenkinson (7.0) had a decent outing in his first Champions League start.
Djourou (6.5) didn’t do too much but helped the Gunners by making himself available for this tie. Squillaci or Miquel might have had a precarious outing.
Vermaelen (7.0) played well but almost threw Arsenal’s lead away with the handball.
Sagna (7.5) played better than the way he did on Saturday.
Song (8.5) was a beauty to watch in midfield
Ramsey (7.5) was ubiquitous in midfield and made himself available for passes.
Frimpong (6.5) did his tackling thing. At least he didn’t give Piers Morgan something new to tweet about.
Gervinho (9.0) showed why he’ll be badly missed when Arsenal visit Old Trafford. Another inspired signing by Arsene Wenger.
Walcott (8.0) missed a few chances but had a well taken goal.
Van Persie (7.5) opened his goal scoring account. We now expect the floodgates to open.
Rosicky (7.5) played like the TR7 of old.
Traore, Arshavin (N/A)
Wenger hailed the Gunners for their strength in the game and said a thing or two:
“Tonight, for 14 years on the trot, we play in the Champions League. We have a new stadium, a fantastic training ground, a very good financial situation and a very strong team. It was important today because we were under pressure so it was important to keep calm, composed and not do anything stupid.”
He also talked about potential signings:
“We have excellent players who are 18 or 19. If we dont find replacements (for Cesc& Nasri) we’ll show faith in them”
In other Arsenal news, Frimpong earned himself an England Under-21 call up, Arsenal has made a £22m bid for Yann M’ Vila and Real Madrid has rejected Kaka’s loan bid and has told the club that they can get the 2007 FIFA Golden Ball winner for £17.5m on a permanent deal.
Today, there’ll be two quotes of the day.
The first sets of quotes came from Kunal De:
“So we qualify for the Champions League, Udinese gave a good fight, everyone who loves the club are CURRENTLY PLAYING for the team.
Hopefully cesc is also happy but the people who are sad include Manuel Almunia, the referee as he couldn’t show a red card to an arsenal player, Udinese players and supporters and Samir Nasri.
I bet he wished that Arsenal was losing the match while he was enjoying watching some arab porn with Gael Clichy”
The second quote came from Jake white:
“So we got £25m for Nasri, £35m for Fabregas, £20m for qualifying for the Champions League and £10m for Clichy and Eboue. Thats £90m. Lets put in a bid for Messi”
Arsenal fans are one of the most faithful, passionate, ambitious and optimistic fans on Earth.
Your manager hasn’t even gotten Hazard, he couldn’t even get Mata….now you’re actually dreaming of Lionel Messi.
In Wenger we trust.
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