The paradoxes of the current Arsenal side were clearly on display during Wednesday night’s 3-1 home win against Partizan Belgrade in the UEFA Champions League. Arsene Wenger’s side currently sits atop the English Premier League ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea. Yet despite taking a lead on the half hour mark they gave up an equalizer early in the second half and at times appeared to struggle against Partizan, the bottom dwelling side in Group H, creating several anxious moments before finally notching up the goals they needed to seal their passage into the next round.
Arsenal started the match looking comfortable and in control with the kind of pass and possess football they are known for. Yet despite an early headed effort from Marouane Chamakh that found the top netting , the Gunners failed to create much of a goal threat in the early going. Although they were winning the midfield battles, Partizan who had nothing to play for but pride, was successful in closing them down in the final third and the home side only managed to take the lead after Robin van Persie was brought down in the box. It was the Dutchman himself who stepped up to the spot and slammed the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-0 just after the half hour mark.
Despite looking confident and competent in the first half, Partizan created few chances and were generally reduced to potshots like Medo’s distance effort in the 37th minute. The first half whistle was blown with the score remaining 1-0.
Arsenal started the second half in full on attack mode yet Partizan absorbed the pressure well. They managed to draw level in the 52nd minute when Cleo received the ball in a good position and had his shot deflect off Sebastien Squillaci into the back of the net.
Arsenal struggled for the next quarter of an hour with van Persie misfiring and Arshavin ambling around lethargically. The game changer came in the 67th minute when Wenger sent Theo Walcott on for Arshavin. The speedy winger had an almost immediate impact and restored the Gunners’ lead in the 73rd minute when he trapped a poor clearance and rather easily lobbed the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Samir Nasri sealed the deal five minutes later when he received a pass from Alex Song at the top of the 18 and slotted an angled shot into the far corner of the net. The Gunners could have added to their tally in the 83rd minute when Walcott received a through ball which he tried to lay back for van Persie when he would certainly have done better to shoot himself.
Baracy Sagna was shown a red card in the 85th minute for bringing down Aleksander Lazevski inside the box. With Arsenal down to ten men Partizan were awarded a free kick from outside the box and Fabianski was forced into a double save, stopping Radosav Petrovic’s initial effort as well as the rebound from Cleo.
In injury time Walcott played the ball in for Nicholas Bendtner who’d come on for Chamakh. Unfortunately the big Danish striker only succeeded in taking it out of the path of a charging van Persie.
Partizan were awarded another free kick from the top of the 18 in the dying seconds of injury time. Petrovic again stepped up to the mark and this time fired the ball into the wall. The final whistle was blown seconds later with Arsenal having just managed to secure their passage into the next round behind Shaktar Donetsk. Partizan, who’d given an amiable account of themselves on the day, nonetheless finish the round with no points, and are effectively eliminated from European competition this season.