Champions League - Arsenal stumble past Partizan

Wed, 08 Dec 21:39:00 2010

Arsenal secured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 3-1 victory against Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates Stadium.

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Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri scored the goals but with Shakhtar Donetsk beating Braga the Gunners have to settle for second spot in Group H and a clash with one of the seeds in the knock-out round.

The Gunners should have already been in the last 16 after scoring 14 goals in their opening three victories but successive away defeats at Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga meant they had to at least match the result of the Portuguese team to progress.

And there were some nervy faces around the Emirates when Cleo's 52nd minute strike cancelled out Robin van Persie's penalty on the half hour.

But substitute Walcott restored the hosts' lead 17 minutes from time with man-of-the-moment Nasri sealing the victory four minutes later.

Arsenal were never at their fluent best but the result means they reach the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition for the 11th year in succession.

The Gunners broke the deadlock after 30 minutes when Van Persie went down in the penalty area on feeling contact from Marko Jovanovic and referee Paolo Tagliavento from Italy pointed to the spot.

Former Wigan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic guessed the right way but Van Persie's spot kick had too much power and was buried into the corner for his first goal of an injury-hit season.

Already eliminated Partizan had lost all five of their group matches and showed no real ambition in the final third but the Gunners were as cold as the temperature in North London going forward.

Lacking their usual cutting thrust, Marouane Chamakh did head over a Bacary Sagna cross while Van Persie stabbed wide from close range before his goal and headed tamely past the post after breaking the deadlock.

After the break Nasri blazed over from close range before the visitors produced a sensational equaliser, scoring just a second goal outside Serbia in their Champions League history.

A lovely touch from Almami Moreira in the build-up set up Cleo who was afforded too much space on the edge of the penalty area, his shot taking a deflection off Sebastien Squillaci and wrong-footing the hitherto untested Lukasz Fabianski.

The Gunners' future in the competition was on a knife edge with the other match in Ukraine still level and there were groans from around the stadium when Cleo got goal side of Laurent Koscielny only to drag his 20-yard shot wide.

Sasa Ilic fired a snap shot over the crossbar and the prospect of Arsenal becoming the first team to win their first three Champions League Group games only to fail to qualify for the next stage grew.

But the Gunners improved after the introduction of Walcott, on 67 minutes, for the disappointing Arshavin and Stojkovic was called into action as he tipped Van Persie's whipped free-kick over the crossbar before Alex Song curled an effort wide after Moreira dallied on the ball on the edge of his own penalty area.

However eight minutes after his introduction Walcott eased the tension as Sagna's cross was headed into his path by Jovanovic and the sub chested the ball down before volleying past Stojkovic from the angle.

Shortly afterwards Arsenal produced a goal more reminiscent of the attacking prowess that has taken them to the top of the Premier League.

The ball fell to Nasri after quick feet from Song on the edge of the area and the French midfielder finished with aplomb, driving into the bottom corner for his 12th goal of an exceptional season so far.

The game was over as a contest at that point but five minutes from time Sagna was sent off after a tangle of legs with Aleksandar Lazevski on the edge of the penalty area.

That will rule the right-back out of the last 16 first leg where Arsene Wenger's side face the prospect of being paired with Schalke, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in next Friday's draw in Switzerland.

Lee Walker / Eurosport

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