September 28th, 2010
Relief: Andrey Arshavin (left) celebrates scoring with Jack Wilshere
The lights went out on Arsene Wenger before kick-off at the Stadium Partizan. By the final whistle, however, the Arsenal manager was seeing rays of sunshine.
A power shortage meant that his players were forced to change in the darkness amid fears that the game might have been cancelled as fates appeared to test Arsenal’s patience to the limit.
After a limp display and shock defeat against West Bromwich on Saturday and a raft of changes to a side robbed of most of its leading lights, there were plenty of questions which required answers.
But after encouraging displays from his most creative forces, that resulted in goals for two of them, it was a late cameo from Lukasz Fabianski that will have brought him greatest pleasure. A beacon of hope in an area where otherwise there has been so much despair
It was that sort of evening. To coin a phrase – plenty of positives – which is just what Wenger would have ordered with Premier League champions Chelsea lying in wait this weekend.
While Andrey Arshavin was full of devilment throughout, Marouane Chamakh’s pace and movement
caused plenty of headaches and Jack Wilshere showed he can grace the most testing of stages, it was his much-maligned reserve keeper who will emerge with the greatest confidence-boost.
Wenger has suffered all manner of criticism as three of his goalkeepers have proved incapable of providing the final line of defence that is necessary at the highest level.
In fairness to Fabianski, he had been left in the shadows by the performance of the man at the other end of the pitch. Former Wigan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic had waged a one-man war against a variety of Arsenal attacks.
The scoreline seemed to have been completed when, five minutes from time, Fabianski was again asked to save a penalty. He had failed in the first half when in-form striker Cleo had beaten him the spot.
When Kieran Gibbs’s mistimed tackle on Ivan Stevanovic allowed Cleo to demonstrate his finishing
qualities once more, the stage was set. Fabianski’s celebrations were matched only by those of his
delighted colleagues and the 1,000 strong pocket of fans who had run a gauntlet throughout the
game as plastic flag-poles were hurled into the visiting enclosure.
A fitting end to a testing evening which started badly when four separate power cuts shut down one of the floodlights and lights in the changing rooms.
Who says ingenuity is dead among professional footballers? Some bright spark suggested that the visiting players should use the light from their mobile phones to change in the darkness.
But bad light was not enough to stop play and Wenger confirmed at the final whistle he wanted to go ahead, regardless. He was a good judge. After withstanding a bright opening, Arshavin and Wilshere combined beautifully for the Russian to open the scoring.
On target: Marouane Chamakh wheels away after restoring Arsenal's lead
Wenger said: ‘Especially in the first half, Jack, Arshavin and Chamakh were a constant threat. I liked what Andrey did on the goal, because it was quick, an instant reaction.’
After then seeing Stojkovic save a number of Arsenal efforts to keep the score down, Partizan hit back. An innocuous ball, fired in from the right, struck Denilson on the top of the arm but referee Wolfgang Stark awarded a penalty. Cleo sent Fabianski the wrong way to level.
While the hosts received a shot-in-the-arm, they never came close to adding a second.
At the other end, it was a different story. Stojkovic, who featured in six matches for Wigan last season, saved again from Arshavin before the Russian fed Chamakh.
Replays showed that the forward took a tumble under the challenge from Marko Jovanovic that ended with the centre-half receiving a red card. It appeared at the time, however, that contact had been made.
Arshavin’s night did not continue in the same impressive vein, Stojkovic blocking his penalty. No matter. Tomas Rosicky crossed from the right, Chamakh leaped highest to head goalwards and although Partizan’s keeper pushed the effort on to the bar he was powerless to prevent the striker finishing off.
The third goal, eight minutes from the end, gave Arsenal much-needed breathing space. A right-wing
corner was headed in by Sebastien Squillaci. At the start of the evening, he looked nervous. By the
end of it, he was walking tall. As was Fabianski. And Wenger too.
All in all, a great evening. Arsenal’s second win in Group H, no injuries and several players – most
notably Fabianski and Wilshere – showed they can shine at this level.
Just what you need with a trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
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