Arsenal can finally breath easy after win
Updated: 2011-08-26 07:57
Arsenal's Robin van Persie celebrates after scoring against Udinese during their Champions League second round qualifier match on Wednesday. Giorgio Benvenuti / Reuters
UDINE, Italy - Arsenal will compete in the Champions League for the 14th consecutive season after its beleaguered side came from behind to record a brave 2-1 win at Udinese on Wednesday.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg of the playoff tie, Arsenal was menaced throughout by the threat of an elimination that would have been unthinkable in both sporting and financial terms.
In the 39th minute, Udinese's irrepressible talisman Antonio di Natale guided a header inside the right-hand post that levelled the tie on aggregate and took the Italians to within a goal of the group phase.
Arsenal captain Robin van Persie equalized 10 minutes into the second half, but the host was handed a chance to re-establish its advantage shortly afterwards when referee Olegario Benquerenca awarded a penalty against Thomas Vermaelen for handball.
Wojciech Szczesny excelled himself in the face of Di Natale's spot-kick, however, plunging to his right and somehow palming the ball over the crossbar despite the power and precision behind the Italian's rising shot.
The shock of spurning such an opportunity drew the host's sting and Theo Walcott put Arsenal out of sight in the 69th minute by racing into the box and coolly beating goalkeeper Samir Handanovic at his near post.
"We showed that, under pressure, we can respond with football and remain calm and composed on the ball and play like we know how to play," Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger told ITV.
"There are many questions around our club. If we'd gone out tonight it would have been worse for the team to play in a serene way.
"It was important tonight. Not financially, as some people have said, but more because we want to play at the top level."
On the day that Samir Nasri completed his move from Arsenal to Manchester City - and just nine days after Cesc Fabregas returned to Barcelona - it was a timely victory for Wenger, whose methods had been called into question with greater zeal than ever before as his squad collapsed around him.
His starting line-up contained five players aged 21 or under and two 19-year-old Champions League debutants in the shape of right-back Carl Jenkinson and holding midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong.
Frimpong was replaced by Tomas Rosicky at half-time but this remained a stirring performance by a young team scarred by the trauma of recent departures and bereft of Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner due to injury.