Job half done as Arsenal moves closer to Champions League

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Job half done as Arsenal moves closer to Champions League


Arsenal fans hold up a placard wishing Cesc Fabregas good luck before the Champions League qualifying playoff first leg at the Emirates Stadium in London, Tuesday. The former captain was transferred to Barcelona on Monday. [AP/YONHAP]

LONDON - Arsene Wenger could be in trouble with UEFA after repeatedly communicating with the Arsenal bench during his side’s 1-0 win over Udinese in the Champions League playoff first leg.

Wenger was forced to watch the match from the Emirates Stadium stands as the Gunners boss served a touchline ban for abusing Swiss referee Massimo Busacca in the aftermath of last season’s stormy Champions League defeat at Barcelona.

After Arsenal officials consulted UEFA on Monday, Wenger believed he was still free to communicate with assistant Pat Rice by passing messages to first-team coach Boro Primorac, who was seated next to the Frenchman and then phoned the information down to the bench.

The trio did exactly that throughout the first half but television pictures showed the rather blatant nature of the plan and UEFA, keen not to be embarrassed, warned Wenger at the break that he was contravening the rules and he withdrew from communication.

After the match, Wenger did not attend the usual press conference, so he couldn’t be asked for his version of events, but it is possible he will get a slap on the wrists from UEFA for going a little too far with his communications.

That would be one more problem for Wenger at the start of a season already riddled with difficulties for the north London club.

Wenger’s side will go to Italy for the second leg next Wednesday with only a slender advantage, secured thanks to Theo Walcott’s fourth-minute volley on Tuesday, as they try to secure a place in the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition.

The Gunners had to ride their luck to earn even that lead as Udinese created a host of chances, only to lose composure at the crucial moments.

With better finishing from the Italians it could have been an extremely bleak start to the post-Cesc Fabregas era. The former Arsenal captain’s ability to retain possession and launch attacks was sorely missed 24 hours after the completion of his move to Barcelona.

As ever, Walcott offered moments of inspiration and exasperation as he scored and then missed two good chances to increase Arsenal’s lead.

Walcott will be expected to shoulder more of the attacking burden now Fabregas is gone however and he challenged Wenger to play him up front rather than on the wing.

“We’ve just got to carry on,” he said. “It’s time to move on. Cesc was a great player for the club but he’s gone.

“We still have some very talented players in the squad here and we believe we can achieve something this year. It was nice to get the goal. I want to get more goals this season. Hopefully the boss will play me up front now. I could have had a couple more but the keeper made some spectacular saves.”

Walcott remains confident Arsenal can finish the job next week and avoid the embarrassment of being consigned to a season in the Europa League.

“We’re in a great position but it’s far from over. We’re happy with the result but we didn’t finish it off,” he said.

“That’s two clean sheets in a row now, and we’re capable of winning over there.”

Meanwhile, Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin took encouragement from the way his side troubled Arsenal even though the Serie A side have lost key players including Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez.

“We shouldn’t feel satisfied with the performance because what counts is results, but it is good to have just a small defeat,” Guidolin said.

“Everyone is talking about the players Arsenal have sold but no one is taking into consideration the players we have sold. It hasn’t been easy for us and playing against a great team like Arsenal we could have lost by several goals.”

Arsenal travels to Italy on Aug. 24.

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