All day I’d been thinking about how much was riding on this game. A loss and we were almost certainly out. Given that we’d been unlucky enough to concede goals at the worst possible time in the past few games, we needed to be clinical. Which is something we’d consummately failed to be in the last few games. But in the end a beautiful goal from Nasri – who else – booked our place in the last 16.
I was surprised to see Denilson in place of Rosicky/Wilshere in the starting line-up; it put a lot of pressure on Nasri to be the creative impetus in midfield. He’s on great form, mind, but with the other two naturally sitting back it leaves Nasri on his own in inventiveness stakes. I say ‘naturally sitting back’ but I may have to rephrase that – this is Alexandre Song we’re talking about here – our new striker.
The first half was a little disappointing. We didn’t create much, and I began to hear in my mind Arsène saying “We lacked a little bit the sharpness”, explaining away a disastrous loss and the end of the Champions League for us this season. Thankfully that wasn’t to be.
Gibbs tackled himself and got stretchered off. He came back on to play ten minutes before deciding that he had in fact damaged himself so hopefully that means it’s not serious, and no ligaments have been torn, damaged, tweaked, strained, entangled or otherwise fucked up. But through bitter experience I’ve learned to err on the side of caution where our injuries are concerned. So here’s hoping he’ll be back before the end of the season.
Eboue came on at right back, and promptly showed his versatility and left-footed skill by crossing beautifully for Chamakh. With the outside of his right foot. It was a great cross and only a intervention by saved Partizan from a likely Arsenal opener.
Which came soon after, when Jovanic made contact with van Persie in the box and the ref rightly pointed to the spot. The second time he gave us a pen in two games. It was the right decision and Robin blasted it past the keeper. Let’s hope it’s the first of many more this season.
But soon after the restart we conceded. Koscielny went forward to challenge for the ball, but missed. He should have stayed where he was. Our makeshift left back Eboue then didn’t cover himself in glory when he failed to move in to help Squillaci out, and the probably saveable shot from Cleo took a deflection, making it pretty unsaveable.
All of a sudden we were in the situation where a goal for Braga or a goal for Partizan would have ended our hopes of the last 16.
The pressure mounted. We had a chance when another Serb dallied on the ball on the edge of his own box, got robbed by Arshavin and all Song has to do is pick out one of the 6 players in the box. Which he failed to do, curling it wide.
Then another flood of relief. A poor clearance from Krstajic gave Theo a chance which he took with aplomb. His first touch made it a bit awkward for him but he volleyed it inside the far post. Great finish from the speedy Englishman.
About ten minutes later, van Persie played a one-two with Bendtner, good feet from Song and a lovely dummy gave Nasri the space to shoot and true to form, he buried it. Fantastic goal from a player on top form. 3-1. If I’d been flooded by relief before, now I was drowning in it. Surely we couldn’t capitulate now and let Partizan back into the match?
Oh yes we could, or at least do our best to make things nervy and trickier in the next CL game. Sagna got a straight red for a tackle on Krstajic which deserved a yellow. It wasn’t really a goal-scoring opportunity. They didn’t get anything from the resulting free kick, thank God – and a great save from Fabianski. We’ll miss Sagna in the next game, where we’ll face anyone from Bayern to Real to Barça.
In the post-match press conference, le Prof said
We’ll take who we get.
Let me just state that I’d prefer Schalke to Real.
Robin van Persie said that Partizan played well, and that there was pressure. He credited Walcott with helping to get the result and I have to agree with him. I’d like to see Theo starting those kind of matches where his pace can get to creaky defences. Would I like to see him start against United? It depends really on whether Arshavin is up for it or not. All too often the bonkers little Russian’s off the pace, and tonight was no exception.
So, Arsenal through to the last 16. Top of the table, and in the Carling Cup semi-final. Things going well on face value, but a bit of tightening on the defensive side and a bit more finishing of the clinical type and we could beat anyone. Like Man U.
Arsène said in the pre-match press conference:
At the moment people focus on our defence but they forget we have the best away record in the league.
Let’s focus on our defence please Arsène, pretty please. It’s generally considered to be a good idea to focus on not conceding. We’re doing far too much conceding, and I’d rather we didn’t. It’s not good for my nerves. I know it’s a good idea to keep Fabianski on his toes, build up his confidence and so on, but really? Can’t we do a little bit of work on our defence?
But on the positive side, let’s take that away form north to Old Trafford with us this Saturday.
Bring It On!