On Wednesday night Arsenal qualified for the next round of the Champions League with a fairly convincing whipping of Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates stadium. They became the fourth English team to qualify for the round of 16, progressing with Manchester United, and fellow Londoners Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Gunners form has been bipolar in the Champions League, starting with three red hot wins but cooling off dramatically in their next two matches, meaning there was the chance that Arsenal could have gone out off the competition.
Even against a lowly Partizan Belgrade, it could have all gone Pete Tong. Following a somewhat boring first half of action, where nobody really shone, Robin van Persie was able to take the lead after thirty minutes. The atmosphere around the Emirates took a turn for the worse early in the second half, as Partizan’s Brazilian striker Cleo scored after his shot deflected off Sebastien Squillaci and over Lucasz Fabianski.
Trepidation set in around the Emirates, and Arsenal began to play inefficient football. However goals from Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri settled the nerves, and secured Arsenal second place. Braga’s loss to Shakhtar Donetsk meant that Arsenal could even have afforded to lose the game.
But the truth is that Arsenal did not qualify with the same ease that the other clubs did, despite being in one of the weaker groups, and may pay a heavy fine in coming second in their group—a draw against giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich could await, and all without a suspended Bacari Sagna. Bad decision ref!
But Arsenal can’t worry about that yet, right now Arsenal are in a great position, one that the supporters would have taken feverishly at the start of the season.
They are atop of the Premier League, and are in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup against the Championship side Ipswich Town. In the FA Cup, a home draw against Leeds could have been far worse for Arsenal, especially since Leeds no longer have Jermaine Beckford who proved to be Manchester United’s undoing last year.
Overall, it’s a night to be satisfied, but not buoyant, for Arsenal, which is a measure of just how good this team has become.