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Arsenal make the trip to Italy on Wednesday night looking to secure a place in the UEFA Champions League group phase and lift the gloom that has descended on the club.

It may not yet be the end of August but Arsene Wenger has come under severe pressure after following up a difficult summer with a couple of uninspiring performances in the Premier League.

Supporters could be forgiven for thinking their worst fears are all coming true, with star midfielder Samir Nasri set to join Manchester City just a week after captain Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona, and with Wenger having so far failed to strengthen sufficiently in the transfer window.

An early exit from Europe’s premier club competition would just about complete the misery and the Gunners are missing a number of key players for the journey to Udinese.

While the game has been billed as season-defining and perhaps era-defining for Wenger, the good news is that Arsenal have a 1-0 advantage for the second leg of their play-off tie thanks to Theo Walcott’s early goal at the Emirates Stadium last week.

If Arsenal can protect their lead and make it through to Thursday’s draw for the group stage, the situation would suddenly look much more positive.

Wenger would have a better chance of attracting top players to the club before next week’s transfer deadline with the considerable funds that must be available to him, while there is plenty of time to recover from a poor start to the domestic campaign.

Arsenal have failed to score in either of their Premier League matches to date but will know that an away goal would put them in a strong position to progress and Robin van Persie is back from his European ban, while Gervinho, Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong are available despite domestic suspensions.

Nasri has been left out of the squad after a deal was agreed with Manchester City, while Jack Wilshere has still not recovered from an ankle problem.

Also missing will be Laurent Koscielny (back), Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby (both ankle), Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) and Sebastien Squillaci, while summer signing Carl Jenkinson could start at left-back.

Wenger will at least be able to coordinate proceedings from the dugout despite breaking the terms of his touchline ban in the first leg by communicating with the bench.

Uefa handed down a fresh two-match suspension as a result but agreed to delay their disciplinary procedure after Wenger, who claimed the rules were not fully clear, asked for a stay of execution.

Wenger’s opposite number, Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin, has warned his players not to be fooled by Arsenal’s off-field problems as they seek to avoid dropping into the Europa League.

He said: “I do not think there is a crisis at Arsenal – they are used to playing under pressure and have always been able to react to difficult moments.

“Like I said, we will have to be very good, not make mistakes and try to be sharp.”

Udinese competed well in the first leg and will be confident of overturning the one-goal deficit at the Stadio Friuli, which was something of a fortress in Serie A last season as they finished fourth.

The new Italian season does not start until this weekend but Antonio Di Natale was the leading scorer last term and will once again provide the main threat to Arsenal.

Fellow frontman Antonio Floro Flores is set to miss out again while there are further problems in defence, with centre-half Maurizio Domizzi sidelined due to a thigh problem and right-back Dusan Basta also doubtful.

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