LONDON (AP) – With Cesc Fabregas' drawn-out departure over, Arsenal must recover from the loss of its captain to avoid missing out on the group stage of the Champions League.
The Gunners have played in the lucrative group stage every season since 1998-99, but need to beat Italian side Udinese in the playoffs to advance, the consequence of last season's fourth-place finish in the Premier League.
For Tuesday's first leg, Arsenal will not only be without Fabregas after Barcelona's offer was accepted, but midfielder Jack Wilshere is injured and striker Robin van Persie is suspended.
Samir Nasri is also suspended, but the midfielder has been linked with a move to Manchester City and did not play in Saturday's season-opening 0-0 draw at Newcastle.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Monday that he is still working to keep Nasri at Arsenal while conceding ''we still need to bring in one or two players in because we are a bit short.''
''We have lost a world-class player (in Fabregas) but many big players have left and the club went on,'' Wenger said. ''We want to show that we have the strength and unity to fight as ever. ... Overall, the feeling inside the squad is very strong, and the desire and belief is very strong.''
After the lackluster start to the Premier League, the pressure is on the team to impress in the Champions League on Tuesday. Fans have been concerned about the lack of big-name recruits in the offseason, even jeering the team after a preseason friendly setback.
''It is important there is a love between the fans and the players,'' Wenger said. ''The players have shown their commitment which deserves the support of our fans.''
Banishing the negativity surrounding the Emirates Stadium will be key to Wenger now that Fabregas is back at Barcelona after eight years.
''The media environment is not positive and the only way we can convince people is to show the attitude, desire and hunger we had on Saturday,'' Wenger said. ''If we deliver performances we'll get the credit we deserve.''
The only significant offseason signings have been Ivory Coast striker Gervinho and 17-year-old English winger Alex Chamberlain, whose previous experience has been limited to the third tier with Southampton.
While Fabregas has gone, a big-name replacement has yet to arrive.
''I am not against spending money if the players we buy can improve our squad,'' Wenger said. ''We have a big squad and if some players leave we will try to bring players in. We request top quality and we are not scared to spend money.''
Arsenal is hosting an Udinese side that made its last Champions League appearance in 2005-06 - the season Wenger's team reached the final and lost to Barcelona.
''It's going to be a match with a lot of suffering - meaning we're going to have to run a lot,'' Udinese midfielder Giampiero Pinzi said. ''But we're extremely motivated, because these are the matches you dream about as a kid.''
Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin has worked at several lower and midlevel Serie A clubs - Atalanta, Vicenza, Bologna, Palermo, Parma - since 1993. But he has never previously taken charge of a team in Europe's elite knockout competition.
''I've been chasing this cup my entire life and now finally it's here,'' Guidolin said. ''I hope we're up to the task against such a strong opponent. The important thing is not show fear, to focus on the details and when we're not in possession. Then if it doesn't go well, the Europa League won't be without honor.''
Udinese's squad has seen the departure of a key player since clinching fourth place in Serie A on goal difference, with Alexis Sanchez sold to Barcelona for ?26 million ($37 million). The only significant preseason signings have been defender Danilo from Palmeiras and forward Paulo Barreto from Bari.
Forward Antonio Floro Flores did not make the trip to London due to a muscle problem, and defender Maurizio Domizzi is also out.