A Cesc- and Samir-less Arsenal played a Alexi-less Udinese at the Emirates last night in a Champions League qualifier that stood out solely for its lack of finishing. Although the English domestic league opened for business this past weekend, the action in Italy doesn't open for another week and a half, so theoretically the home side should have had a distinct advantage heading into the match. o That theoretical favoritism turned into a real life boon in less than five minutes, as the Gunners' Theo Walcott volleyed a pinpoint Aaron Ramsey cross into the back of the net for a quick 1-nil lead. Ramsey had better be up to repeating the beauty of that first cross a bunch this season, as the London side is going to need to have a heckuva season out of him if they hope to maintain their Champions League qualification. Note that I didn't say "...hope to win a trophy." o Anyone else thinking Gervinho is pretty much going to fit in perfectly at Arsenal? He looks great on the ball, but almost always makes the wrong move or pass right at the critical juncture. I haven't seen enough of him to make a final judgment, but what I've seen so far hasn't been too convincing. o Arsenal's defense last night, despite keeping a clean sheet, looked as porous as a sponge. Udinese cut the Gunners' back four to shreds on the counterattack on more than one occasion, and their domestic rivals, including Liverpool and United, must be licking their lips in anticipation, especially given that Sir Alex's favorite style of slaying the Londoners involves absorbing pressure and then striking hardest when Arsenal gets caught too far up the pitch. o And if the defense was bad, it has to be said the offense -- bar Walcott's early goal -- was not much better, looking as impotent as a roomful of eunuchs during the game's second half. Luckily for Arsenal, Udinese displayed a profligacy in front of net that had to be seen to be believed, as well.
o That was an incredibly effective touchline ban that UEFA inflcited on Arsene Wenger, not allowing Pat Rice and the Arsenal bench to speak with the Frenchman, but allowing them to speak to the guy who sat next to Wenger in the stands, Boro Primorac. You don't suppose Arsene might have been whispering any advice into Primorac's ear, do you? I'm sure there was another reason Arsenal sought pre-game assurances that it would be okay to speak with Primorac. o As if Arsenal's current defensive frailties weren't enough, I'm quite sure Wenger was none too happy to see Johann Djourou limp off the pitch after only 9 minutes of action, only to be replaced by carl Jenkinson, who's only 19 years old. Oh, and the same guy who only eight short months ago was turning out for Eastborne Borough. You know, this Carl Jenkinson:
And these guys don't need any new defenders? o In closing, just thought I would mention that Emmanuel Frimpong is one of my new favorite names in the League, in case anyone cares. Kind of reminds me of ping pong, one of my favorite games from my youth, as well as the name of something you might order at a restaurant: "I'll have the shrimp frimpong, please."
o In the end the early goal stood up, as Arsenal now hold onto a slim 1-nil lead heading into Italy next week, with only 25 million pounds and 15 consecutive years of qualification hanging in the balance. As the announcers would say, this one is balanced on a knife's edge heading intot the second leg. The only alteration I'd make is that given both teams' performances last night, the knife edge is very dull, indeed.