ARSENE WENGER hailed “faultless” stand-in goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski after the often-criticised Pole helped Arsenal record their first European away win in a year as they beat 10-man Partizan Belgrade 3-1 in Serbia last night to maintain a 100% start in Champions League Group H.
After surviving a power failure which forced the team to change in the dark and an intense atmosphere during the opening exchanges, the Gunners, who had six changes from the side beaten by West Brom at home on Saturday, went ahead on 15 minutes through Andrey Arshavin.
However, after wasting several more chances, the visitors were made to pay when Brazil-born striker Cleo levelled from the penalty spot after a handball by Denilson.
Partizan then had Marko Jovanovic sent off for hauling down Marouane Chamakh on 55 minutes, but Arshavin missed his penalty. However, Moroccan striker Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci gave Arsenal a two-goal cushion heading into the closing minutes.
It could, though, have been a tense finish but for the intervention of Fabianski – deputising for the injured Manuel Almunia – as the Poland international first saved a penalty from Cleo and then capped a confident display with another acrobatic stop from Ivica Iliev in stoppage time.
Wenger has long championed Fabianski’s cause, despite a number of blunders, and felt last night’s display proved his faith justified.
“Fabianski had a good game, we have seen the player tonight who we see in training. He had a faultless game,” said the Arsenal boss.
“I know it is in him. He got it out in the game tonight and hopefully that will give him the belief and confidence he needs.”
The Gunners boss added: “I am confident he will come out as a great ‘keeper, I have always said that.
“We have to keep confidence in him and he needs to gain experience from games like this.”
Fabianski could be in line to play in the crunch against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Wenger said: “At the moment Almunia is injured, we will have to see how his injury goes, but at the moment it is too early to say.”
Wenger felt his side, missing key men like captain Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen, coped well with the early onslaught.
“Partizan gave us the game we expected – full of commitment, full of power on every break,” he said.
“We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of chances. However, we could not kill the game off and then we were always under threat.
“They came back with the penalty, afterwards we needed to keep the pace high and when we got the second goal, I thought we looked comfortable.”
Wenger added: “For us it was important to win straight away after a big disappointment against West Brom.
“It puts us in a good position confidence-wise. Sunday is a big, big game for us. I believe we will go there with a desire to do extremely well.”
There was a chance the match would not have gone ahead if the floodlights had failed.
Wenger said: “I thought it would be terrible to go home and not play.
“I encouraged UEFA when they asked me ‘do you want to play even if one corner is off?,’ I said ‘yes, as long as the referee is happy with it’.
“Overall it was acceptable.”
Partizan have now lost both of their matches, and look set for a battle with Braga for the Europa League place.
Coach Alexandar Stanojevic said: “The atmosphere during and after the match from our supporters tells us they were satisfied and we played a good game.
“However, when we got the red card it was difficult because it is tough enough to play against Arsenal when you have 11, but when you have 10, it is nearly impossible.’’
Subs for Partizan Belgrade: Smiljanic for Petrovic 69, Iliev for Boya 83.
Subs for Arsenal: Vela for Chamakh 74, Nasri for Wilshere 74, Clichy for Arshavin 84.
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