ARSENE WENGER has backed reserve keeper Lukasz Fabianski and the rest of his young Arsenal team to rise to the challenge when they take on Partizan Belgrade in what is set to be a highly-charged Champions League encounter in Serbia tonight.
The Gunners were shell-shocked by their home Barclays Premier League defeat to West Brom on Saturday and now must look to get their season back on track with a positive result in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in European football.
Partizan may have had to come through three rounds of qualifying to reach the group stages, but the Belgrade side are in good form, with five wins from six to top their domestic table.
Wenger, though, maintains lessons have been learned from what was an abject display against the Baggies.
“The disappointment was very deep, but we can learn from what has happened to us,” said Wenger.
“We realise that we need to be focused in every single game, produce performances in every single game and that is what I believe we have learnt from Saturday.
“I believe in the intelligence of my group players and I have no doubt in their talents. We will be highly motivated and will try to redress what was not right on Saturday.”
Manuel Almunia – who gave away a penalty and was directly responsible for two of West Brom’s goals – picked up an elbow injury in that game which opens the door for Fabianski today, with the accident prone Pole looking to take his chance with both hands rather than drop another clanger.
Wenger said: “For Fabianski, it is another big chance – but you want a goalkeeper or any player to grab the chance when you get it.
“As a manager you can give a chance to a player who is good enough and I believe in his talent.
“He gets another opportunity to show how good he is. I want him to show how good he is.
“There is only one way to show confidence in a player and that is to put him on the pitch and give him his chance.”
Stadion FK Partizan will be at boiling point come kick-off tonight, as ‘The Gravediggers’ look to extend Arsenal’s record of failing to win away in the Champions League since last September.
The Serbians, though, have something of a chequered history of crowd trouble and were thrown out of the 2007/08 UEFA Cup for clashes in a qualifying tie against Zrinjski Mostar – while in September last year, a Toulouse fan died in hospital after being injured following violence in a bar ahead of the two sides’ tie.
Wenger, though, is confident the game can pass without incident.
“We are always inside the stadium, so I do not know what is happening outside, I leave that to UEFA and to the Serbian authorities. I am sure they will do that very well,” he said.
Partizan will be led by Brazil-born striker Cleo, who scored eight of his 11 goals this season in that qualifying competition and has recently been granted Serbian citizenship so he can play in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Partizan Belgrade captain Mladen Krstajic says the Serbians will be out to make a name for themselves across Europe by heaping more misery on Arsenal in tonight’s match.
Veteran Krstajic, the 36-year-old defender, believes Alexander Stanojevic’s well-drilled team – who lost their first Group H fixture 1-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk – can produce a performance which would send shockwaves throughout the competition.
“Against Arsenal, we will need to give even more than we produced against Shakhtar,” Krstajic maintained.
“We can’t afford to let our performance level drop, and I hope we will manage to achieve a result that will announce our name throughout Europe,” he said.
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