By Chris Harris
When Arsène Wenger and Francesco Guidolin come face to face at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night they can afford a wry smile.
The Arsenal manager and his Udinese counterpart are vastly experienced coaches, separated by just six years, and they have one special connection - both lost a major player to Barcelona this summer.
Alexis Sanchez, described by Udinese's president Giampaolo Pozzo as "in the same class as Lionel Messi", left Italy for the Nou Camp last month while Cesc Fabregas returned to his former club this week.
Without Fabregas and shorn of the suspended Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri, it was put to Guidolin ahead of a vital Champions League Play-Off that this was a good time to face Arsenal. The Italian was having none of it.
"I don't think it will change much for us," he replied. "Any team that Arsenal can play on the pitch tomorrow will be full of quality.
"Yes they will miss some very important players but they have great quality. The Arsenal manager has said they have a lot of great players, they have been playing Champions League football for many years, they are young and we know it will be a difficult game for us.
"I would have chosen another opponent if I could have picked the draw. I consider Arsenal to be one of the best teams and they have got a lot of great players, very important players. It all depends on what we can do tomorrow. I will just look at my team, I can't worry about the situation with Arsenal. They can give problems to any opponent in any situation at any level in any part of the world.
"We will have to play a great match against a very strong opponent, against a team that has got a great tradition and a lot of experience in this competition. Yes I know we will miss a few players but we have worked hard and we are ready to do well. We are not favourites to go through but we want to try and I think we are prepared."
The "few players" Guidolin refers to are Sanchez, Gokhan Inler and Cristian Zapata, all of whom have recently left Udinese. But just as Wenger is looking to the future without Fabregas, so the Udinese coach is focused on the players still at his disposal.
"I don't think about these things, this is my team now and I've been training this team," he said. "We knew that we had this match, we only found out about our opponents a few weeks ago. If it depended on me I would have chosen another team but we cannot influence the draw unfortunately. So we'll prepare for this match and I'm not looking at who's missing. I know it's going to be difficult but we will try.
"Udinese also has a tradition of playing in Europe before, but for the charm of the match and for the opponent then this is probably the most important game in Udinese's history. I would probably compare it to the match against Ajax in the UEFA Cup some years ago but because it is the Champions League this is probably more important."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source