There’s 1054 miles between Ashburton Grove and Stadion FK Partizan, the home of our next opponents and the ground we’ll be playing at tonight. While it’s not the longest journey we’ll be making in the group stages, it’s still a fair old distance to travel – especially with the team showering themselves in such “glory” over the weekend.
I won’t regress about the West Brom match now, the result has been settled and there’s no need for a rehash. What is worth saying though; is that whichever starting eleven Wenger fields this evening, will need to turn in a collective defensive display ten fold better than that which the Baggies had the pleasure to face on Saturday. Before anybody starts to panic, fulfilling such a task shouldn’t be difficult at all. Every Gooner knows that we can defend (and attack) far more effectively than we did on the weekend and, for whatever reason, that performance was a ‘one off’. If we can lock out Partizan in the same manner we locked out Sunderland for 94.5 minutes, Mr. Fabianski should have a nice, relaxed evening in Serbia.
On that point, I wonder how many Gooners around the world believe the ‘official’ story that Manuel Almunia has picked up an injury, forcing him out of the Partizan game. I’m not necessarily calling the club liars (I’m sure they employ spin-doctors just like the politicians anyway) but after such a dodgy last outing, I think any manager would be keen to see if another one of his ‘keepers can put on a display. Is Lukasz Fabianski the man for that? If you’d asked me that a few months ago, I would have said definitely. I had been a long-time supporter of Fabianski, even after his shambles against Porto last season I was one of the few believers in his talent – I remember genuinely thinking for a lot of last season he should usurp Manuel for the number one slot. Unfortunately time, even though it’s just an abstract concept, has gradually chipped away any belief I had in Lukasz. I no longer think he’s a budding ‘keeping with bags of latent ability waiting to be unleashed. His performances have made me eat the words of support I used to give him.
But Wenger knows his team and his players better than anybody else. He’s not arrogant enough to go to Stadion FK Partizan with a second-string squad that he doesn’t believe will win. If Fabianski is in goal, which it seems he will be, then that’s because Wenger believes he’s the strongest ‘keeper available. We should try to remember that Wenger doesn’t base his judgements solely on how our players perform in official matches, he also watches them across a variety of training methods and in-club competitions. As far as we know, Fabianski might have turned in some truly horrible performances when he’s played recently but, in training, he can fly like Superman and make David Seaman look like Manuel Almunia.
Whatever the reality of the situation, it’s not just the goalkeepers to blame for a lot of our recent woes – so let’s hope Lukasz has very little to do against Partizan Belgrade later today and that when he is called upon, he can again show that amazing potential that’s slowly starting to become a distant memory now.
The team I expect to be fielded tonight: Fabianski, Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Gibbs, Wilshire, Song, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh. This is quite a debatably selection given that we want players fit for the Chelsea game but don’t want to field an under-strength squad susceptible to an upset. At the same time, dropping players like Song, Diaby and Clichy after their weekend howlers isn’t what we want them to have on their minds when they travel to the Bridge.
With the right mental approach, we do have the ability to easily turn over Partizan Belgrade – but only if the players and fans focus on the game at hand. Let’s forget about the shambles of the West Brom game, put aside the excitement of the Chelsea game, and let’s get ourselves sitting pretty in Europe’s elite competition.