Champions League - Walcott strike seals nervy Arsenal win
Arsenal rode their luck as Theo Walcott's goal gave them a narrow 1-0 win over Udinese in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie at the Emirates Stadium.
The England striker - watched by national coach Fabio Capello - converted Aaron Ramsey's cross from close range on four minutes to give Arsene Wenger's side a slim lead before next Wednesday's second leg in Italy.
Gervinho failed to connect with a volley in the box from five yards out seconds later and the night seemed to go downhill for Arsenal from that point as Udinese began to visibly grow in confidence.
The result was tough on Udinese, who recovered well from conceding so early to carve out several chances with the livewire Antonio Di Natale hitting the bar with a free-kick early in the first half.
Arsenal were rudderless for long spells without departed skipper Cesc Fabregas, who was flogged back to Barcelona in a £35 million deal on Monday.
If this is what life is going to be like without Fabregas, the Gunners are in for a long season with too much inexperience dominating their side, especially at the back where they again lacked any real cohesion.
Manager Wenger served his one-match UEFA touchline ban in the stands after the fall-out from the loss to Barcelona in last season's competition, and looked as unsettled as his side's defence.
Theo Walcott and Marouane Chamakh replaced Andrei Arshavin and the suspended Robin van Persie. New signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the bench, but fellow new boy Carl Jenkinson did a solid enough job after replacing Johan Djourou, who lasted only 11 minutes of the second period due to a hamstring strain.
They were also unlucky in the second half with a hamstring injury to Kieran Gibbs, not exactly boosting squad numbers ahead of Liverpool's visit to the Emirates in the Premier League on Saturday.
At least they won the match, and they could have even have carried a 2-0 lead into the second leg with Walcott forcing Udinese keeper Samir Handanovic to make a superb diving stop from Gervinho's pass a minute into time added on.
Udinese have yet to start their season in Italy, but they provided a constant threat on the break in the first period before dominating large swathes of possession in the second half as Arsenal were pinned back.
Pablo Armero cut a dash through the heart of the home defence on 26 minutes, but home keeper Wojciech Szczesny stood tall to make a fine block when the visiting player seemed certain to net.
Udinese skipper Di Natale is a real class act and provided ample evidence of why he has been the most prolific Serie A player over the last five seasons with 97 goals in 160 games.
He shaved the outside of a post in the first half and looked certain to score early in the second period, but Djourou made a terrific last-ditch tackle on the forward before exiting the action.
Di Natale also forced Szczesny to dive and claw out his free-kick from distance on 74 minutes as both teams began to feel the pace with the match raging from end to end.
Walcott was Arsenal's main threat throughout the evening.
He was critical of England coach Capello in his autobiography. He would not have impressed the Italian when he flicked a weak shot at goal that was easily saved by Handanovic after being played in by Ramsey 20 minutes from time.
Arsenal will have to defend much better at Udinese's Stadio Friuli to be sure of claiming a spot in the lucrative group stages of the world's most celebrated club competition.