Manager Arsène Wenger has called on his Arsenal FC side to react to the sale of Cesc Fàbregas by demonstrating their battling qualities when they take on Udinese Calcio in their UEFA Champions League play-off first leg. "We want to show that we have the strength and unity to fight as we ever did at this club," said the Frenchman.
Fàbregas's protracted move to FC Barcelona finally went through on Monday ending a saga that has occupied the English press for much of the summer, but after wishing the Spaniard well, Wenger said that his club would move on without their former captain. "We lost a world-class player and we are sad about that," said Wenger. "But this club is 125 years old this season and many big players left and yet the club went on.
We want to show that we have the strengths and unity to fight as we ever did at this club."
Arsenal will need to demonstrate all of the defensive strength they displayed in Saturday's 0-0 draw against Newcastle FC as they will again be without the suspended duo of Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, and injured midfielders Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby (ankle), while Tomáš Rosický is to undergo a late fitness test.
Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovič believes his side can get the better of Arsenal, regardless of who lines up for the hosts. "They are strong but we are not scared and personally I wouldn't be afraid even if Fàbregas, Nasri and Van Persie were playing.
If we score in London, we have a good chance of qualifying."
The goalkeeper's confidence is not misplaced given that only FC Internazionale Milano plundered more league goals than the Friulani last term and striker Antonio Di Natale finished top goalscorer in Serie A for the second successive year. The visitors are not without their problems, however, with defender Maurizio Domizzi and striker Antonio Floro Flores both out with thigh injuries. Like the Gunners, Udinese also lost one of their leading lights in the summer to Barcelona – Serie A's 2010/11 Player of the Year Alexis Sánchez – while Cristián Zapata and Gökhan Inler left for Villarreal CF and SSC Napoli respectively.
"We are not the same team as last season and some new players are yet to adapt to our style," admitted Handanovič. "However, we have played a few friendlies against foreign sides this summer and have prepared well for this tie. It's heated when you play in front of [60,000] fans but we have always played our best football against the top teams in Italy and we can do the same against Arsenal. It's an advantage to play the return leg at home and if we want to make history, we have to win this tie."
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