Wednesday August 24 2011
Champs: Udinese crash out to Arsenal

Antonio Di Natale scored a goal and had a penalty saved, as Udinese lost the Champions League play-off to Arsenal 2-1 on the night.

The Friulani lost the first leg of this Champions League play-off 1-0 to a Theo Walcott goal after four minutes and were unlucky when Di Natale hit the crossbar. Robin Van Persie returned from his ban, as did Arsene Wenger, who won an appeal to have a new touchline ban postponed.

The Gunners were shaken by last week's 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool and sold Samir Nasri to Manchester City, so confidence was low. Udinese were still without Maurizio Domizzi and Antonio Floro Flores, but Giampiero Pinzi started despite a stomach bug.

It was a very aggressive start from both sides amid shots by Walcott and Emmanuel Badu. Di Natale scored a sensational volley, but it was correctly ruled offside.

Another excellent opportunity on the break fell short when Pablo Armero's header bounced just in front of the line. Wojciech Szcezesny smothered a Di Natale snapshot.

Di Natale hit the woodwork in the first leg and did so again, as he came sliding on to a Mauricio Isla low cross to crack against the base of the near post from point-blank range on 23 minutes.

Neuton's poor clearance fell straight to Van Persie, who blasted over from the edge of the box. Samir Handanovic needed a desperate double save to deny both Walcott and the Van Persie follow-up. Moments later, Szczesny charged down Di Natale at the back post.

Di Natale finally got his breakthrough goal just before half-time with a fantastic looping header that went in off the far post from Pinzi's chipped cross. It put the tie all-square at 1-1.

Arsenal introduced Tomas Rosicky for Emmanuel Frimpong and scored at the 55th minute. Gervinho got to the by-line past Mehdi Benatia and pulled back for Van Persie's tap-in from seven yards. It meant Udinese now needed two to qualify, as Arsenal had the only away goal of the tie.

Moments later, an Udinese corner ricocheted around the box and the referee pointed to the spot for a Thomas Vermaelen handling offence. However, Di Natale's penalty towards the top corner was palmed over by a stunning Szczesny one-handed save.

That was a big psychological blow and Arsenal took full advantage. Walcott used all his pace on the counter to surge past Benatia and thump the finish past Handanovic at the near post.

Neuton risked punishment for clipping Walcott with his elbow, but the movement seemed to be minimal.

Di Natale flashed an angled drive wide, but the confidence and belief had been sapped out of the Friulani. Szczesny also palmed a Di Natale free kick out of the near top corner, then Benatia was stretchered off. There was time in stoppages for another Handanovic double save on Rosicky and Armand Traore'.

Udinese lose the tie 3-1 on aggregate and go into the Europa League group phase.

Udinese 1-2 Arsenal (1-3 on agg)

Scorers: Di Natale 39 (U), Van Persie 55 (A), Walcott 69 (A)

Saved penalty: Di Natale 59 (U)

Udinese: Handanovic; Ekstrand, Benatia (Pasquale 86), Danilo, Neuton; Isla (Denis 82), Badu, Asamoah, Armero; Pinzi (Fabbrini 63); Di Natale

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Jenkinson; Frimpong (Rosicky 46), Song, Ramsey; Walcott (Arshavin 90), Gervinho (Traore' 85), Van Persie

Ref: Benquerenca (Por)

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