The question posed in yesterday's blog was whether Lukasz Fabianski could grab the latest in a long line of spurned opportunities. Some of you cackled derisively, some of you told me to stop, as though I was insulting your intelligence. And yet, yet, it was Fabianski who made a game sealing penalty save with about eight minutes left. Unusually for an Arsenal keeper, it wasn't himself he was bailing out either, it was young Kieran Gibbs who was, harshly I thought, penalised almost immediately after we'd gone three one up.
It didn't stop there for Fabianski either. Late on, he made a very good reaction save from close range to ensure that Arsenal could see out last night's game in Belgrade with minimal fuss. Ok, a foot to his right and it would have gone in. but it didn't and I think it's about time the Pole had an upturn in his fortunes. As I said yesterday, it's fairly clear that he's going to have to put in a few more faultless shifts before restoring his reputation, but this was a good start.
All in all, it was a night for restoring smiles to the faces of those with Arsenal at their hearts and I think we thoroughly deserved our first away win since having to come from behind at Standard Liege last year. The night began with Arsène making changes to the team; Gibbs replacing Clichy and Djourou djoining Scquillaci in central defence. Denilson and Rosicky came into midfield, with Wilshere replacing Nasri as the creative hub. Before the lads could take to the field though, there was some doubt whether the game would take place as the lights had failed. So, the team got changed for their appointment with "the gravediggers" lit only by their mobile phones. That seems kind of apt to me. I wonder if Arsène swapped the team talk for a ghost story.
Partizan started the game very much on the front foot as the latest defensive combination struggled to get to know one another, but as soon as we managed to put some football together, on the quarter hour, we took the lead. Arshavin, who looked lively all night, fed Wilshere who drove into the box under pressure and backheeled the ball to the oncoming Russian. His shot hit the back of the net before Stoikjovic appeared to know he'd hit it. Thereafter, it was as if the team was lining up for a turkey shoot; a lovely piece of football carved the home team open, but Arshavin rolled the ball towards Chamakh when he should have shot, Rosicky had a smart shot well saved, Arshavin chipped the keeper only to see his shot cleared from the shadow of the crossbar by a covering defender. These are just the instances I can remember. But one of the greatest frustrations I think we all feel with this team, apart from Alex Song thinking he's Cesc (get behind the ball, you're a defensive midfielder!) is our ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. For a team that can be quite profligate in our finishing, we're surprisingly good at that. And so we went into the break at 1-1 after Denilson was handled in the area and Cleo sent Fabianski the wrong way from the resulting penalty.
I guess the moment our hosts knew the game was up, to call it a turning point would do an injustice to the control we already had of the game, was when Chamakh was put through on goal 10 minutes into the second half and was fouled by Jovanovic. His fall was ever so slightly theatrical, but it was a foul. It was also a penalty to Arsenal, with a red card being shown to the defender. I think one red was the least this team deserved, because some of their tackling was rather industrial. The one guy in the Arsenal team you would put your house to bang away a penalty is probably Andrei Arshavin, but his penalty went down the middle and was blocked by the keeper who was having what Don Goodman was speculating might be "one of those nights". Within five minutes of the sending off, Goodman was then bemoaning Arsenal's apparent failure to tear the Serbian champions to shreds, which seemed a little ridiculous to me.
And so it proved. With fifteen minutes left, Rosicky stuck a cross up into the area, Chamakh's header was tipped onto the bar, but with the keeper consequently stranded, he reacted quickest to nod the rebound home. Having failed to score at home for the first time at the weekend, I'm sure he'll be delighted to have notched his first away goal, especially such an important one. Nasri and Vela then replaced the goalscorer and Jack Wilshere, who had coped admirably with another midweek battering. In a developing theme for Arsenal this season, the goal that made the game safe was another header. This time Squillaci glancing home Nasri's pinpoint corner and thought could now comfortably turn to Chelsea at the weekend. Clichy replaced Arshavin, presumably so the little Russian could catch a bit of a rest, but also to shore up the left side.
Bearing in mind the fact that we immediately conceded a penalty down that flank, I'm not sure it worked but at least it left the stage open for Fabianski to be the hero for once! All in all, I think it was a good win, especially if you factor in the players missing. My one concern would still be the fact that we are still liable to concede even when dominating a match, not a problem restricted to the Fab, Djourou, Scquillaci trio by any means. Perhaps that one could be resolved by reminding Alex Song that he is best served leaving the attacking to those who are paid to do it.
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