Arsenal Reach Champions League Knock-Out Round as Runners-Up
Arsenal secured their passage into the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League for the 11th consecutive year last night with a hard-fought victory over Serbian side Partizan Belgrade in Group H.
The Premier League side were not at their best during a game they knew they had to win in order to guarantee their place in the last 16, but eventually ran out comfortable winners courtesy of two goals in five minutes in the second half.
Robin van Persie had put the Gunners ahead from the spot after 30 minutes, but their narrow lead was cancelled out at the start of the second half when Cleo’s vicious drive deflected off the unfortunate Sebastien Squillaci and past Lukasz Fabianski.
The North London side were briefly knocked off their stride and their subdued support reflected the flat performance until the introduction of Theo Walcott on 67 minutes – with the pacy winger making an almost immediate impact on the game.
The England forward restored Arsenal’s lead a few minutes after coming on when he flashed an instinctive volley into the far corner beyond the reach of Partizan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic and Samir Nasri wrapped up the win with another moment of individual brilliance five minutes later when he fired a fine low finish into the corner.
At 3-1 up the home side were looking comfortable, but the night was marred by the sending off of right-back Bacary Sagna in the dying minutes. Nevertheless, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will insist that last night was simply a case of getting the job done, which his team eventually did to secure their place in the next round.
Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, due to Shakhtar Donetsk’s predictable victory over Braga in the Ukraine, the Gunners had to settle for second in the group and will now face one of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Schalke in the last 16. Certainly, whoever Arsenal draw, they’ll have to put in a better performance than they did against Partizan if their European adventure isn’t to come to an abrupt end.