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Will Wenger be Houdini in Udine?
When today's Champions League play-off draw was announced, the one thing that struck me was what a tough draw Arsenal had been dealt. If they want to come anywhere near winning the competition they need to be giving teams like Udinese a good pasting but Arsenal are very much an injured lion at the moment.
Another season of Fabregas constantly linked to Barcelona has surely done them no good at all and if he is sold to Barcelona then Arsenal fans must hope that Wenger has a shortlist of potential signings to strengthen his squad with that money at hand. The transfer window closes in under a month, which gives any new signings very little time to settle in with the season already starting next weekend.
Ironically it's Barcelona that has weakened Arsenal's opposition Udinese the most as well, Alexis Sanchez making a 33 million euro move, it will be hard to fill his boots, the pacey playmaker was the link-up between the midfield and Di Natale, his pace and trickery bamboozled defences that were often on the backfoot and he liked to play a killer pass on the counter attack. Colombian defender Zapata is another loss Udinese have suffered, having moved on to Villareal during the summer.
Neither club are new to the situation of having their talent poached, last season Udinese lost three of their key players in Pepe, Motta and D'Agostino and Arsenal have seen the departure of some of their best players season after season recently.
Francesco Guidolin is in his second stint at Udinese and the much-experienced Serie A manager has a habit of finding gems in the transfer market, last season's additions of relative unknowns Mehdi Benatia and Pablo Armero proved a success and it will be interesting to see if any of this summer's low cost signings Neuton, Abdou Sissoko, Thierry Doubai, Diego Fabbrini or Baretto turn out to be shrewd.
Arsenal's team is better on paper, both play fast and impressive football and if Fabregas plays then you'd have to fancy them, the loss of Sanchez may upset the balance of the whole Udinese team. Isla was used to linking up with Sanchez down the right and last season's goal machine Di Natale clearly revelled playing off him.
I feel that Gael Clichy's low priced transfer of £7 million is a loss that has been under-estimated, I hear Arsenal fans saying that they have a ready made replacement for him in Kieran Gibbs but I fear he's a bit over-rated and if he gets injured the choice of Armand Traore or bargain basement signing Carl Jenkinson looks a bit worrying.
With Arsenal's dubious defence and Di Natale's recent form, Gervinho will have to match him for clinical finishing in front of goal and all hopes should be pinned on the Ivorian forward! This should be an extremely interesting match and looks to be the tie of the qualifiers, Arsenal are usually reasonably good early on in the season but it could equally be another shock result like Ally McCoist's Rangers who were defeated by Malmo.