London, August 17: Arsenal held on to beat Udinese 1-0 after Theo Walcott's early goal in the Champions League playoff round on Tuesday.
Walcott struck just four minutes into the first leg before the wasteful home side had to withstand intense pressure from the Italian visitors to protect the victory.
Reaching the group stage is worth more than $30 million, but while Arsenal has been in the lucrative Champions League every season since 1998-99, Udinese is chasing qualification for the first time in six years.
Contesting the Champions League is vital to Arsene Wenger's hopes of attracting the players who can fill the void left by Cesc Fabregas' departure to Barcelona.
While long-expected, the exit of the captain on Monday has raised renewed questions about the long-term plans at Arsenal.
But it took less than four minutes to raise spirits inside the Emirates Stadium where the Arsenal players were booed on their last appearance two weeks ago after a preseason setback.
Aaron Ramsey charged down the right flank and floated in a low cross that Walcott turned in past goalkeeper Samir Handanovic off his right shin at the near post.
But for all their speedy moves, the Gunners were regularly caught out on the counterattack by an Udinese side playing its first competitive match of the season.
Pablo Armero stormed between Arsenal defenders Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, but with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat, he was thwarted by the goalkeeper's strong save. The follow-up by Mauricio Isla was blocked by Alex Song.
And at the start of the second half it required a last-ditch intervention by Johan Djourou to block a shot from Antonio di Natale, who was Udinese's most dangerous threat.
A free kick from Serie A's top scorer for the last two seasons was pushed wide by Szczesny with 15 minutes remaining.
Arsenal carved out a late opening when Gervinho weaved his way through the Udinese defense and fed Walcott but the winger's shot was pushed wide by a diving Handanovic, leaving Arsenal with a slender advantage to take to Italy next Wednesday.
The victory also came at a cost for Arsenal with Gibbs coming off at half time with a hamstring injury and his replacement Djourou forced off with the same problem after less than 10 minutes on the pitch.
Arsenal was not helped by manager Arsene Wenger being unable to directly issue orders as he was banished to the stands by UEFA, his punishment for a tirade against a referee last season after the Champions League loss to Barcelona.
The post-match rage also meant new captain Robin van Persie and midfielder Samir Nasri were suspended, although the latter is set to follow Fabregas out of Arsenal and would have been cup-tied had he featured on Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Lyon beat Rubin Kazan 3-1, Czech champion Viktoria Plzen won by the same score at Copenhagen. There were two draws, with Benfica held 2-2 in the Netherlands at FC Twente and Austrian side Sturm Graz drawing 1-1 in Bulgaria at BATE Borisov. AP