Arsenal dispatched Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates last night, beating the Serbian team 3-1 to progress into the next round of the Champions League. It was not a typically fluid Arsenal performance by any means, but Wenger's boys got the job done in the end, and I suppose that's all we could ask for.
On a night when the Gunners needed a win at all costs, they certainly didn't look as if they were trying to get it, at least not early on. The eleven guys on the pitch didn't seem to be clicking at all; the passing was messy, we gave the ball away too often, and we just didn't look very dangerous overall. As an Arsenal fan, we are treated to the sublime more often than not and I think we are probably spoiled to an extent, because after watching last night's sloppy first half, you'd think it was Stoke or Blackburn out there, not Arsenal. But after half an hour gone, captain van Persie was tripped in the box and the referee obliged with a penalty. It did look a bit soft, and Robin definitely did his best to win it, but there was contact and the Partizan defender did leave his foot stuck in, so there should be no real complaints. Robin took the responsibility to give us the lead and confidently put the ball in the back of the net to make it 1-0. I was pretty glad to see van Persie get his first goal of the season, even if it was a penalty; they all count. However, his celebration terrified me to my bones (look at the picture below), and I would like it if Robin refrained from such daring moves in the future. I don't want him to break again.
Instead of the goal spurring us on, Arsenal slipped back into their mundane ways, and held on until half time. Fabianski had nothing to do for the first 45 minutes as Belgrade rarely looked like threatening, but the Polish keeper was powerless to prevent Belgrade's equaliser. Seven minutes into the second half, with their first shot on target all night, Partizan equalised with a deflected goal off of Squillaci. Again our defensive frailties were exposed, an all too familiar occurrence this season that has to be remedied at some stage. I don't know what the problem is, as I don't profess to be a defensive expert. I rate Koscielny and Squillaci quite highly, I believe they are excellent defenders on their day, but something is wrong there. Maybe it's the fact that Song is not protecting the back four as much he could be, but there's probably more to it. It's something for Wenger to worry about, especially when we come up against better teams in the competition.
Thankfully, the scary thought of elimination from the Champions League seemed to wake us up. The rather useless Arshavin (who never got going all evening, despite a great game against Fulham at the weekend) was replaced by Theo Walcott, who stamped his impression on the game immediately. The speedy Englishman pounced on Partizan's inability to clear the ball, and Theo volleyed home from a tight angle to make it 2-1. It was a good finish, and I gave a huge sigh of relief when the ball hit the net. Walcott was brought on to give the team some urgency, and he delivered perfectly. The second goal seemed to provide the team with some momentum, and the on-form Samir Nasri quickly put the game beyond doubt, making it 3-1 with a cool finish. After some fabulous passing between Song and Bendtner, Nasri controlled the ball with immense skill before firing in low for our third goal, and his 12th of the season. The guy is unstoppable right now. It was game over from then on, but there was still time for Sagna to collect a straight red card late on. I was pretty annoyed at the time, but it was just my biased nature refusing to believe what had happened. He'll miss the first leg of whoever we have to play in the new year.
So with Arsenal securing a place in the last 16, the focus now turns to who we will face. Unfortunately the Gunners finished second in the group, after Shakthar defeated Braga, which means we'll be playing either Schalke, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or (gulp) Barcelona. In typical Arsenal fashion, we had to go and make life more difficult for ourselves. I will gladly take either of the German teams, but I dread the idea of facing Barca or Madrid at this stage; Our leaky defence will be torn to shreds surely. Wenger says that we won't fear Barcelona, but it would undoubtedly be the worst draw to get from the available teams.
Our attention now turns to the trip to Old Trafford on Monday night. I'm hoping to be in the pub for that one, so if I get to watch it, expect something on Tuesday. Depends how much uni work I still have to fit in before Christmas!
Thanks for reading