When a Kieran Gibbs foul gave Partizan Belgrade their second penalty of the night I have to admit I was worried. I know there was only a few minutes to go and they were down to ten men but I have the utmost confidence in this team’s ability to completely implode at any moment.
Cleo, a very manly looking Brazilian woman, had scored his first penalty of the night in the first half but this time Lukasz Fabianski had the measure of him, dived to his right and made an excellent save. Afterwards he let out a roar, like King Kong crossed with Godzilla, delighted that something, at last, had gone right for him.
He received a big thank-you hug from Gibbs and when, a few moments later, he got both hands to a close range snap shot you knew something had changed because instead of the ball going just inside the post it went just outside. Another fine save. Arsene Wenger said afterwards:
We have seen the player tonight who we see in training. He had a faultless game. I know it is in him. He got it out in the game tonight and hopefully that will give him the needed belief and confidence. I am confident he will come out as a great keeper, I have always said that.
Now, one swallow does not a summer make, not by any means, but I have to say I was genuinely chuffed for him. I still harbour serious doubts about him, one good performance doesn’t come close to convincing me that he’s the man for the job, but if Almunia’s injury means Fabianski has to play then we should all be glad that he played well last night. A penalty save will restore some confidence, as will his game in general, and it’s far better to have him feeling better about himself than going to Stamford Bridge on the back of another howler.
Just 1.19% of fans who answered the goalkeeping poll fancy the goalkeeping Pole but clearly Arsene Wenger is in that very small minority. He’s continued to declare his faith in Fabianski, causing eyebrows to raise higher than a stoned Carlo Ancelotti, yet some of that was repaid last night.
Another young man who continues to repay the manager’s faith in him is Jack Wilshere. He was fantastic again last night and showed vision beyond his years in setting up Arsenal’s first goal. His drag back/side and backheel to set up Andrei Arshavin was first class, like Henry or Bergkamp in their pomp, and he seemed to enjoy a more advanced role last night. What was telling, I think, is that when Chamakh made it 2-1 both the Moroccan and Wilshere were taken off.
Arsene said it was because Wilshere had been on the receiving end of a few tackles and he wanted to protect him. Which is fair enough but I think it’s a sign that Wilshere will be in the starting XI against Chelsea on Sunday. When you consider his age and his relative inexperience it’s amazing but when you look at what he does on the pitch, and how well he does it, it makes perfect sense. He’s been our best midfielder this season, why wouldn’t he play?
Denilson’s handball for their penalty seemed relatively inconclusive, despite many replays, but I have to say I’d want it if it were up the other end. It was a typically ill-timed goal to give away. We might have been further ahead, chances were missed, but instead we found ourselves pegged back. Their keeper was having a night that must have been making Fabianski think ‘You jammy bastard’. When Chamakh was fouled the ref gave a penalty and a red card. It looked a bit soft, I have to say, but the Moroccan has a brilliant knack of getting ahead of the last defender meaning only an obviously perfect challenge will save the day.
Arshavin stepped up, fired the penalty down the middle and the keeper saved. It was, let’s face it, a shit penalty. The Russian’s effort against Blackpool was unsaveable, a perfect spot kick. He ought to remember that the next time. Partizan battled well after that but when Rosicky’s cross found Chamakh he headed against the bar and followed in to nod home the rebound to make it 2-1. Sebastien Squillaci opened his Arsenal account with a fine glancing header from a Nasri corner and that was that.
Of course we had the late penno drama and the emergence of Fabianski as a now 100%, undisputable, world class goalkeeper, but it was a victory I thought we deserved. The performance wasn’t brilliant but it was important to get ourselves back on track ahead of what is going to be a very difficult game at Chelsea on Sunday.
Some confidence needed to be restored and one thing perhaps overlooked is that it was our first away win in Europe since the 3-2 comeback against Standard Liege on Sept 16th 2009. That’s another little hurdle, psychological or otherwise, overcome. It leaves us top of group H, 6 points from 6, and ready to face a double helping of Eduardo’s new pals at Shaktar Donetsk.
So, plenty of time between now and Sunday to discuss Chelsea. The one bit of team news we got from last night is that Thomas Vermaelen is going to miss out. Achilles problems are notoriously slow to heal, and it’s the sort of injury that can lead to very lengthy spells on the sidelines if aggravated. We’re right to be cautious about this.
You would suspect it’ll mean a big, big test for Laurent Koscielny if he gets the nod. Johan Djourou looks like a player still in need of games, no big surprise after a year out, and I think the manager will be looking to see how his new signing responds after what was a fairly dismal performance against West Brom. The man himself talks about the physical side of the English game. He’s already had a great battle with Kevin Davies, one which he came through with flying colours really, so there’s a bit of groundwork there for what is going to be a tougher scrap against Drogba, who combines his physical strength with a lot more footballing ability than Davies.
Anyway, as I said that’s all to come over the next few days. Now though, I must go consume some kind of pig related breakfast.