Wednesday 23 August 2017

Wilshere lights up night for Gunners to spare Arshavin's blushes

P Belgrade 1
Arsenal 3

Jeremy Wilson

A power cut might have caused the lights to repeatedly go out in the Arsenal dressing-room before the match, but it remains impossible just now to dim the emerging talent of Jack Wilshere.

Tellingly, he was absent from the starting team that succumbed against West Brom on Saturday but he returned last night to provide the drive as well as the guile that ultimately inspired Arsenal to a valuable 3-1 win.

On a night of considerable drama, Lukasz Fabianski also went some way to erasing the nickname 'Flappy Handski' with a brilliant late penalty save.

The result was achieved following moments of farce just before kick-off. On five separate occasions, sections of the ground were struck by a power cut, with the away dressing-room temporarily affected.

Denilson reported the development via Twitter and there were even stories of the Arsenal players navigating themselves around the bowels of Partizan's 61-year-old stadium by using the light from their mobile phones.

There was still more than an hour until kick-off when the first Arsenal players emerged from the dark of their dressing-room to be subjected to a torrent of abuse from a fervent and already almost full Stadion FK Partizan. Wenger had warned his players to expect an "interesting" atmosphere and the 32,000 Partizan fans ensured that was an understatement.

With one floodlight repeatedly failing, Arsenal were greeted by a giant banner reading: 'You have been run over by a steamroller'. Fabianski probably felt that way after his previous Champions League appearance against Porto but, with Manuel Almunia unavailable due to an elbow injury, he was back in the starting line-up and initially the busier of the two goalkeepers.

He was forced to dive bravely at the feet of Pierre Boya to deny Partizan after a poor backpass from Sebastien Squillaci, while Boya also had a penalty appeal waved away after claims that he was pulled back by Johan Djourou.

The Switzerland defender was making his first appearance in the Champions League since April 2009 as Wenger made six changes from the team that disappointed in the shock 3-2 defeat against West Brom.

Most interesting was the subtle positional switch of Wilshere into the attacking midfield role usually occupied by Cesc Fabregas. With Denilson and Alex Song forming a firm midfield base, Wilshere became increasingly influential and began combining to great effect with Andrei Arshavin and stand-in captain Tomas Rosicky. This was most evident when Arsenal took the lead after 15 minutes with a goal of trademark quality.

Arshavin had collected the ball from Song and released Wilshere who, in turn, split the Partizan defence with a wonderfully instinctive back-heel. Arshavin was then clinical with his finish to sweep the ball past former Wigan goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic.

It clearly settled Arsenal and only a goal-line clearance from Marko Jovanovic prevented Arshavin from doubling the lead with a cute chip. Just as Wenger's team appeared to be gaining control, they committed a familiar piece of defensive suicide.

Radosav Petrovic had delivered an unthreatening cross yet Denilson was slow to react and it struck his arm.

Referee Wolfgang Stark paused before pointing to the penalty spot but there was no hesitation from Cleo, who coolly sent Fabianski the wrong way for his 12th goal of the season.

Arsenal had allowed a lead to slip in three of their past four away matches in Europe and, for a significant period of the second half, it appeared that they may again lack that final killer instinct.

Marouane Chamakh had been relatively quiet as the lone central striker, but he finally got beyond the Partizan defence in the 55th minute only to be bundled to the floor by Jovanovic.

The red card was immediate, yet Arsenal still failed to inflict the ultimate punishment as Stojkovic saved Arshavin's penalty with his legs. Arshavin looked crestfallen, although Arsenal did now have the advantage of playing the remaining 40 minutes against 10 men.

Arshavin forced another save before Chamakh made the numerical advantage count by heading into an empty goal after Stojkovic had tipped his initial effort onto the crossbar.

Squillaci then headed Arsenal's third from a Samir Nasri corner before Fabianski's unlikely heroics to deny Cleo after Kieran Gibbs had upended Ivan Stevanovic.

It still did not silence the Partizan supporters but does ensure that Arsenal have made a perfect start to this Champions League campaign. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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