Arsenal in crisis mode for 2nd leg vs. Udinese
Arsenal is in crisis mode as it visits Udinese for the second leg of a Champions League playoff on Wednesday, hoping last week's 1-0 win can help keep alive its streak of 13 consecutive group-stage appearances in the top European competition.
The Gunners have managed only one point from two English Premier League matches - including its first home loss to Liverpool in 11 years - and have lost two key players in the transfer market.
With former captain Cesc Fabregas already having gone back to Barcelona, Arsenal announced Tuesday it had reached a deal to send Samir Nasri to Manchester City, meaning the France midfielder won't be with the squad in Italy.
Manager Arsene Wenger was given a two-match touchline ban on Monday for breaching the terms of a previous suspension during the first leg against Udinese, but UEFA froze the ban Tuesday, saying it will hear Arsenal's appeal ''in due time.''
Wenger accepts the multiple challenges.
''I believe that is part of my job. I am not at all destabilized by that,'' he said, before addressing a possible negative impact from Nasri's departure. ''There is always a concern but not an excuse. You are always concerned about the consequences it can have on the team.
''It can also have a positive consequence,'' Wenger added. ''If you are strong mentally you can increase the solidarity knowing we need to fight more. That is what ideally we want from strong mentally players.''
Meanwhile, with Serie A not due to start until this weekend, Udinese is completely focused on qualifying for the group stage for just the second time.
''Arsenal is an unforgiving squad, so the match must be approached calmly, without nervousness, and without thinking about how we need two goals to reach the group phase - otherwise we'll risk falling into a puddle,'' said Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin.
Last week, England forward Theo Walcott scored the only goal of an open and entertaining first leg after four minutes in north London. However, Udinese created several chances, including a free kick from captain Antonio Di Natale that banged off the crossbar.
''We only suffered in the first 10 minutes when we didn't play like we know how to, then you saw the real Udinese,'' said Di Natale, who led Serie A in scoring the past two seasons with a total of 57 goals.
With Antonio Floro Flores and Paulo Barreto still unavailable, Udinese's only reserve forward remains German Denis - who will transfer to Atalanta after the match.
The northeastern Italian squad's only lineup question is at left back. Maurizio Domizzi was out and Brazilian defender Neuton struggled to contain Walcott in the opening leg, so Guidolin could use veteran Giovanni Pasquale.
Arsenal's new captain, Robin van Persie, returns from suspension, and Alex Song and Gervinho - who served league suspensions in the loss to Liverpool - are also back.
Wenger had been banned for the first leg for comments made about the referee following last season's Champions League elimination by Barcelona. However, he was seen passing on instructions to the bench through coach Boro Primorac, who sat alongside the manager in the stands.
UEFA ruled that was a breach of its rules, and banned Wenger from both the second leg against Udinese and his next European fixture. Arsenal was also fined ?10,000 ($14,400) for ''improper conduct by its officials.''
''I don't know why I have been banned for the first time and naively I still don't know why I should be banned for the second time,'' Wenger said.