Arsenal uncertain and unsettled
Arsene Wenger started the night perched high in The Emirates chewing on a toothpick; Arsenal's fans went straight for their fingernails and ended it grateful for the relief of victory against Udinese.
Wenger was fidgety and agitated. The gallery was nervous, unsettled, unsure. And every one of these emotions was mirrored by Arsenal as they inched their way agonisingly to a one-goal advantage to take to Udine next Wednesday for the second leg of the Champions League qualifier.
Theo Walcott's early goal gave Arsenal a very acceptable result against dangerous opponents, a 1-0 win and no away goal conceded. It was also achieved with Cesc Fabregas finally back in the arms of Barcelona, Jack Wilshere injured, newly-appointed captain Robin van Persie suspended and Samir Nasri also banned and on his way to Manchester City.
And yet it was an occasion that did little to dispel the mood of restlessness currently hanging over Arsenal, an uncertainty over direction and over what lies ahead if Wenger fails to act decisively and successfully before the transfer window closes.
Wenger watched his team from the directors' box on Tuesday night. Photo: Getty
Even Wenger's touchline ban, imposed after his clash with officials during the Champions League defeat in Barcelona last season, failed to pass off without incident as he was taken to task by Uefa for communicating with his assistant Pat Rice via coach Boro Primorac.
Club officials clearly believed Wenger had been given permission in the pre-match briefing to pass on messages. My view is that it would be petty to inflict further punishment on Wenger because this carried all the hallmarks of a genuine misunderstanding as opposed to an obvious flouting of his ban.
It resulted in Wenger swerving the traditional post-match media commitments as he claimed his ban covered all aspects of the game - also convenient as it spared him questions he may well be heartily sick of answering.
The questions remain, however, and are legitimate as it took the emerging talent of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to ensure Udinese did not secure the away goal they, and veteran captain Antonio de Natale in particular, deserved.
How has Wenger allowed his squad to thin out to such an extent without securing replacements and reinforcements? Fabregas, Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue are gone and Nasri is going, almost certainly to be followed by Nicklas Bendtner and others.
Arsenal's lack of defensive resources were exposed in the first 10 minutes of the second half, when Thomas Vermaelen switched from central defence to left-back after Kieran Gibbs suffered a hamstring injury - and then back again when substitute Johan Djourou suffered a similar problem.
It meant a full debut in the Champions League for Carl Jenkinson, a promising teenage talent signed from Charlton Athletic this summer but surely at this elite level ahead of his time. No slight on Jenkinson, but the need for his appearance underscored the current lack of depth available to Wenger.
Szczesny was outstanding, Walcott prominent and Gervinho industrious - which he had to be as Marouane Chamakh was only one stop short of useless alongside him, confirming his rapid decline from the early days of promise following his arrival at Arsenal.
These were the pluses, but they cannot disguise that Arsenal face a potentially uncomfortable return leg before they are assured of a place in the main Champions League stage for the 15th season in succession under Wenger.
Arsenal supporters, understandable anxieties aside, showed great patience and support as they backed their side through periods of suffering against Udinese, but they are clearly only too aware of their current frailties. They will not take the journey to Italy with complete certainty that they will return with the prize of a place in the Champions League group stage.
It was all summed up in one first-half mess of misplaced positioning and lack of tackling that allowed Pablo Armero to run 50 yards, unhindered by the pressure or presence of an Arsenal player, before Szczesny made a crucial save.
The win covers up cracks and progress with the right result in Italy next week would give Arsenal's morale a footballing and financial lift but these are strange days, with Wenger seemingly uncertain who he wants to fill the gaps appearing with increasing regularity in his squad.
There will be much talk of the usual £25m prize for reaching the main business of the Champions League - but Arsenal have earned themselves plenty of money already this summer and so much more than cash will be at stake in Italy next Wednesday.