They say there is no such thing as an easy game in football and when it comes to the Arsenal, that phrase couldn’t be more true. On a cold night at the Emirates, with a 60,000 big crowd, it was always going to be a tricky tie.
Ahead of the game, news filtered in that Gibbs was going to fill in for the flu-stricken Clichy and Denilson was going to fill in for Wilshere, whom I believe was not used tactically as the line up contained two strikers in Robin Van Persie and Maroune Chamakh.
The line up was:
Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Gibbs
Denilson – Song
Nasri – Van Persie – Arshavin
On the bench we had Szcznesy, Eboue, Wilshere, Rosicky, Walcott, Vela and Bendtner.
Partizan wanted to get a result here and I was impressed with the way they came out – defensive, but with two players at every opportunity. They started well, and we couldn’t find space and within the first 15 minutes, the crowd were already chanting the classic worry chant… “Come on Arsenal”…
There was pretty much nothing to write home about – Chamakh was having one of his worst games of the season so far, Denilson looked a little clueless and Arshavin was over elaborate.
We have the ref to thank for awarding what looked like a very soft penalty (I may need to watch the replay again) and Robin Van Persie fired us 1-0 up. In fact, outside of the penalty, we had no shots on target in the first half- very strange for a must win game – but also an accolade to the way they defended.
The first shot on target actually came from a Robin Van Persie freekick outside the box but by then Partizan had equalised with one of their few efforts – heck, it may have been their first shot too – the communication and connection between Squillaci and Koscielny still in need of some improvement!
At this point with 19 minutes to go, it was squeaky bum time – 1-1 here and 0-0 at Shaktar – if either Partizan or Braga scored then we’d be out of the Champions League… Walcott was on for Arshavin and Eboue had already replaced the injured Gibbs… and young Theo put us ahead with a good finish after some pressing from us… The ball ricocheted out to Theo about 6 yards out and the young England international dispatched the ball into the back of the net… Relief was an understatement.
At the same time, news broke around the stadium that Shaktar were 1-0 up and thank God… It started to look like we would qualify… And the sublime Samir Nasri took it upon himself to score a 3rd to put the nerves at rest when some good play from Song got Nasri in and he finished well with his left foot… His twelfth goal of the season!
There was still time for a controversial sending off, when Bacary Sagna was adjudged to have fouled a Partizanian player outside the box and was handed a straight red… I’m not if we can even appeal it. Alex Song slotted in at right back and we saw the game out with 10 men.
Not the best performance by any means, but we won – and we’re through to the next round of the Champions League. It’s going to be a tough one whoever we get as we can only get one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Schalke. Ouch! That’s a 75% chance of getting one of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich – my money is on Barce, it’s fate!
Arsene commented on our performance…
It was a bit of a low-key game because we didn’t find our pace in the game. We couldn’t find openings in their defence. They defended very well, they were focused on closing us down everywhere. We were just below our normal pace. You have to give them credit, they defended very well and on every single ball they closed us down. I felt our speed of passing was not incisive enough and it was a bit nervous as well.
And singled out Barcelona as favourites… (one of the 4 teams we could meet!)
The potential opponents are there is a 50 per cent chance of travelling to Spain and a 50 per cent chance of travelling to Germany. If you ask me where would you like to go? I don’t know. You [the journalists] might prefer to go to Spain, for us not necessarily. Let’s be realistic, Barcelona are the super-favourite at the moment but we take what we get and if it is Barcelona it is Barcelona. We have played them already last year and we’ll see.
Top of our league, through to the next round of the Champions League, in the Carling Cup semi finals… I don’t know how we’ve managed to stutter our way to this, but I’ll take it… hopefully we can improve on this and actually win something… I did say “hopefully”…
Til tomorrow mes amigos…