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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFYING SECOND LEG: Arsenal show character and triumph against Udinese

Arsenal progress to the lucrative group stages of the Champions League after coming from behind to win 2-1 at Udinese, and 3-1 on aggregate. This has not been the best of times for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Star player's leaving, injuries to influential squad members, plus supporter unrest at a perceived reluctance to enter the transfer market. Even mumbling's of whether the Frenchman has been with the Gunners too long.

Then there was tonight's game with Arsenal defending a slender 1-0 first leg lead and the possible damaging issue of being dumped out of the Champions League for the first time in 14 seasons.

At least the latter has been avoided after an enthralling match in Italy in which both teams played open, attacking football in hot, humid conditions.

Arsenal started brightly but it was Udinese who began to look dangerous and it was no surprise they levelled the tie on aggregate when the ever dangerous Antonio Di Natale looped a header into goal via the inside of the post just before the break.

Just reward really as the Italians had already hit the woodwork twice although the Gunners had been denied by keeper Samir Handanovic earlier with a fine double save from Theo Walcott, then Robin Van Persie.

The cost of crashing out of Europe's premier competition had been put at £25m and this was what the visitor's were facing at the beginning of the second half. But within ten minutes Wenger's team had levelled the scores and edged ahead over the two legs.

Gervinho cut the ball back from the dead-ball line leaving Van Persie with the simplest of chances from close range.

But almost immediately the home team responded and were awarded a penalty as Thomas Vermaelen was penalised for handball at a corner.

Di Natale steeped forward but Wojciech Szczesny flung himself to his right and palmed the ball over at full stretch to deny the Italian's skipper.

With just under 20 minutes remaining Arsenal completed their comeback as Bacary Sagna released Walcott who raced clear to slot the ball past the Slovenian stopper.

Udinese continued to press but Arsenal were now in control and saw out the remainder of the game to finally this season give their fans something to cheer about.

Attendance: 25,687

Udinese scorers: Di Natale 39 Arsenal scorers: Van Persie 55, Walcott 69

Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR)

Venue: Stadio Friuli

Yellow cards: Sagna (ARS), Vermaelen (ARS), Walcott (ARS), Jenkinson (ARS), Benatia (UDI), Isla (UDI)

 It's the home stretch! 24/7 click for the best coverage of Arsenal's final transfer market moves

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Dave Williams

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