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Unconvincing Arsenal draw first blood against Udinese

A nervy Arsenal have managed to overcome Italian outfit Udinese 1-0 in Champions League qualifying tonight. The first leg of the play-off round was a winning result for the Gunners but they will have to improve quickly for the Premier League clash with Liverpool on Saturday before the return leg at the Stadio Friuli next week.

Arsenal's first match following the departure of Cesc Fabregas began perfectly when Bacary Sagna flicked a neat ball through for Aaron Ramsey and the Welshman produced a pinpoint delivery for Theo Walcott for the winger to score with a composed finish in just the fourth minute.

But that was the best of the highlights for the injury-hit Gunners who spluttered and struggled against a bright Udinese side who had many more chances, especially in a nervy second half for the home side.

Arsenal could have been two to the good inside ten minutes when Gervinho missed from pointblank range after Bacary Sagna's cross from the right evaded everyone in the area before Udinese captain Antonio Di Natale's 12th minute free-kick crashed into the crossbar as Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny's feet appeared rooted to the spot.

Pablo Armero was thwarted by Szczesny when the visitors attacked on the counter in the 26th minute and Di Natale was again dangerous when he had a little flick on goal that shaved the outside of the post as the visitors began to look extremely comfortable during the latter stages of the opening half.

Johan Djourou came on at half-time for the injured Kieran Gibbs and immediately made a desperate lunge to deny Di Natale but it seemed as though Wenger wanted to preserve him for the second leg and hauled him off after just ten minutes.

Udinese were well on top in the second half with Mauricio Isla fizzing across goal on the hour-mark before Armero struck over from the outside of the area with a powerful shot.

Walcott scuffed his attempt with twenty minutes remaining after being played through by Ramsey before it was time for Szczesny to come up with a peach of a save from Di Natale's bending 74th minute free-kick.

Gervinho created a top chance for Walcott late in the piece but Samir Handanovic produced a top-shelf save to deny the England international whose earlier goal separated the sides who will meet again in Northeast Italy next Wednesday.

Arsenal: 1 (Theo Walcott 4') Udinese: 0 Emirates Stadium, North London

Yellow cards:ARS - Theo Walcott 11', Kieran Gibbs 45' UDI - Joel Ekstrand 1', Neuton 12', Giampiero Pinzi 71', Pablo Armero 79'

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Andrew Slevison
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Andrew Slevison

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