Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Cleo 32' (pk)
Jovanovic Red Card 55'
A much more normal-looking Arsenal side ventured into the capital of Serbia today and emerged with a valuable 3-1 away win against Partizan courtesy of a goal each from Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, and Sebastien Squillaci. It was a win that was welcome for the fans and certainly will be welcome for the players after an abject show on Saturday, the West Brom match now firmly in the rearview mirror.
Things got off to a bizarre start at the Stadion FK Partizan, power cuts shutting off a number of the lights before the match started. But start it did, and Arsenal set about their usual style of controlling possession and passing. However, Arsène Wenger's assessment of Partizan as a side very strong on the break soon came into play, Brazilian striker Cléo nearly finding space in the six-yard area to shoot before Denilson made a precise last-ditch tackle to dispossess the Steamroller.
Cléo continued to present problems, nearly forcing Squillaci and Fabianski into a comedic error, the Frenchman's backwards header coming under severe pressure. But it would not be long before Arsenal regained their composure and opened the scoring.
Arshavin had collected the ball near the D before feeding Jack Wilshere in Partizan's penalty area. Wilshere looked to have been surrounded, but managed to roll the ball backwards with the bottom of his foot to the onrushin' Russian, who blasted it low into the corner of the net. Arsenal had the upper hand, and they seemed reluctant to let it go.
Pressure on the Partizan goal continued steadily for the next fifteen minutes, but the score would level in the silliest of circumstances. A Partizan break culminated in Radosav Petrovic whipping in a pass from the left that hit Denilson in the hand inside Arsenal's area. Cleo calmly sent Lukasz Fabianski (who was otherwise superb today) the wrong way to slot home the resulting penalty kick, and the score was 1-1.
Arsenal would have been justified at this point in asking how it came to be level, but a combination of good goalkeeping by Vladimir Stojkovic and Arsenal's lack of finishing (Arshavin came closest with a goal-bound chip that was cleared away at the last moment) meant that the score remained tied going into halftime. The Gunners had dominated shots on target and possession, so there was little reason to panic.
Partizan came out of the blocks a little better at the start of the second half, but it would only take ten minutes for serious problems to emerge. Chamakh turned excellently after receiving a pass in the box, and Marko Jovanovic tried to win the ball but instead clipped the Moroccan's heels as he was goal-bound. German referee Wolfgang Stark did not hesitate to send off the defender and award a penalty. Up stepped Arshavin, who promptly blasted the ball low and straight, a gleeful Stojkovic kicking it away with his back-stretched legs. The Partizan crowd went absolutely batpoo, but their side now faced an uphill task: hold off the Gunners with ten men for forty or so minutes.
It was to prove too big a task.
Arsenal continued to put pressure on the Serbians, although the occasional break came the Gunners' way. Finally, in the 71st minute, Tomas Rosicky found space on the left to waft in a lovely cross for Chamakh, who finally managed to attack one with real venom. Stojkovic pushed his initial effort onto the bar, but it caromed right into his path, and his second header found net. 2-1 to the Arsenal.
The Gunners looked more comfortable after that. Wenger introduced Samir Nasri and Carlos Vela for Chamakh and Wilshere, and the third goal came after winning a corner. Nasri put a good ball into the box, Squillaci lost his marker and glanced a header in at the far post. 3-1.
However, Partizan had one last effort to give, and Lukasz Fabianski had some work to do.
Only moments after the French defender had nodded Arsenal's third home, Kieran Gibbs, now playing left wing after Clichy had come on for Arshavin, clipped Ivan Stevanovic in the area, and Partizan had their second PK of the evening. This time, however, Cleo could not fool Fabianski, and the Pole made a superb diving stop to his right, pushing the low effort around the post. He was understandably pumped about the save, and he would be even more so in injury time after an excellent reflex save denied Ivica Iliev from point-blank range. The final whistle arrived, and Arsenal had achieved a confidence-boosting win ahead of the Chelsea match on Sunday.
It is just what the doctor ordered. Arsenal dominated possession 70-30 in the match, Denilson completed 94% of his 93 passes according to Orbinho on Twitter. Some of Arsenal's defending still looked a little shaky, but midfielders emerged at the right time to rescue some problems. Overall, a good victory away in the Champions League, and some pressure off.