In terms of “here and now”, we cannot view this evening’s win at FK Partizan as anything but a good result: Six out of six points in this season’s Champions League competition, our first away win in said competition for a year, a good rebound win following Saturday’s shambles. These are all things we hoped the team would accomplish tonight, and they duly responded. Longer term, however, I am not so sure if this was the best thing for us.
Covering tonight’s events very quickly, we were lucky to even play the match, as the floodlights failed earlier in the evening. Lights were (sorta) restored shortly before kickoff and Referee Stark gave the go-ahead. Arsenal, though, started the match as though they were counting on not playing. At least three times in the first ten minutes, our sleep-walking side was sliced open all too easily. Djourou was lucky not to concede a penalty, although Boya embellished the contact, no doubt convincing Stark not to point to the spot. Then Denilson had to clear the ball off the line, and Fabianski had to bail Squillaci out after the latter had sold him sort with a poor back pass. Still, Arsenal took the lead out of nowhere with a quarter of an hour gone, as Wilshere set Arshavin up. We took complete control from there, as great chances came, and great chances went. When we are in that sort of magnanimous mood, there is always the fear we could pay for it, and so we did when Denilson undid his good earlier work by allowing his arm to make contact with the ball in the penalty area. Cleo sent Fabianski the wrong way from the spot, and we headed into the interval 1-1. We’ve seen that before, haven’t we?
Eleven minutes after the restart, we had a chance to put ourselves back in front, when Jovanovic brought Chamakh down in the area, earning a red for his troubles. Arshavin squandered the penalty, firing it too straight and too close to Stojkovic, who saved with his legs. I know that one great game does not a world-class keeper make (more on that in a minute) but I felt that Stojkovic did very, very well tonight. Arshavin may not have converted the penalty, but the damage was done with Partizan a man down. There was a sense of inevitability looming, and the second goal arrived on 71, when Chamakh cleaned up after Stojkovic had tipped his header onto the bar. Another header – this from Squillaci eleven minutes later – gave us a two goal cushion. Being that we are Arsenal, we had to make it hard for ourselves. Barely two minutes later, Gibbs brought Stevanovic down in the area for another Partizan penalty. This time, Fabianski made amends with a fine stop to deny Cleo; Fabianski did even better in stoppage time, denying Iliev with an excellent save from open play. And so it finished, Partizan 1, Arsenal 3. We defended poorly enough to where Partizan had great chances not just to equalize, but actually win. Two games with defensive displays like this is a definite cause for concern – I think our defensive personnel are better than before and I consider the stories that Arsene does not have the team practice defending absolute myths – nevertheless, these two performances look worryingly like last season.
Step forward Lukasz Fabianski – as the headline says, “Credit where credit is due”. I will admit to not being Fabianski’s number one fan, but he had an excellent game today. I thought he was sharp, alert, assertive, and ready for whatever came his way. He looked a completely different player from the wreck who was shoved around at Ewood last May. Ah, but…What goes for Stojkovic goes for Fabianski: “one great game does not a world-class keeper make”. I give Fabianski a ton of credit for holding his nerve and preserving the win, in an intimidating atmosphere against a tough team. He did this in spite of a defense that started and finished as poorly as what Almunia had to suffer on Saturday. He did this in spite of almost certainly hearing the collective groan that went up from the Arsenal Nation when Arsene announced that Fabianski would start tonight. Well done, indeed!
Our problem is: what will this count for if he reverts to form against Chelsea on Sunday? Goalkeeper is a confidence position – for our first and second choice, it is a confidence burden. Mistakes seem to stay with and Al and Fabianski longer than other keepers I have seen. Perhaps Fabianski really is turning the proverbial corner – I need more evidence than tonight, to subscribe to that theory.
Like it or not, I think Fabianski is our first choice for the near term – and I am not sure Almunia will supplant him when he is fit again. During the summer, I thought that all the goalkeeper speculation and (non) moves suggested that Arsene wanted to cut Al loose, not Fabianski. I still think that is the case – I think his injury may well be legit, but I also think that Arsene has been waiting for an opportunity to move Fabianski up. He has it now, and Arsene is predictably calling tonight’s performance and result vindication. I do not see it quite the same – until Fabianski proves me wrong with a measure of consistent excellence, I see tonight as the aberration. There are simply too many recent memories of bad performances for me to jump on the bandwagon. This is where we are right now: Fabianski gets another chance to prove the rest of us wrong, and we just hope it does not cost us dear. Whatever happens Sunday at Stamford Bridge, count on one of two things: we win and Arsene continues to heap praise on Fabianski; or we lose and Fabianski “had a solid game”. Arsene has traveled too far down this road to change his tune now.
Written by oliver