Partizan victory vital for Arsenal
London: Arsenal’s hopes of ending their six-year trophy drought could be determined in less than a week, starting with their final Champions League group H match against makeweights Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates Stadium here on Wednesday.
The Gunners, beaten in their last two European matches, must defeat a Partizan side that have lost all five of their group fixtures if they are to be certain of a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Otherwise Arsenal, three points behind leaders Shaktar Donetsk and level with Sporting Braga, could miss out if the result of the tie between their two rivals in Ukraine on Wednesday goes against them.
Back on the home front, Premier League leaders Arsenal face fellow English giants Manchester United, just a point behind, at Old Trafford on Monday.
Win both those games and Arsenal can look forward to a season of significant achievement; lose both and Gunners manager Arsene Wenger’s repeated promises of a bright future for his side will start to sound decidedly hollow.
Arsenal and France full-back Bacary Sagna insists the side are well aware of the need to turn potential into performance.
“We do not want the season to be over at the end of December,” said Sagna.
“It’s about time we won the big games. Against Chelsea we dropped points, at home we have dropped so many points. At United, we want to play our game and win.
“Going top of the (Premier) League was great on Saturday. But we need to be more focused. We have to keep moving forward.”
Arsenal have experienced defensive problems this season be it injury to centre-back Thomas Vermaelen, out since September and not expected back until the new year at the earliest, or uncertainty as to whether either Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski is their best goalkeeper.
But the absence of injured playmaker Cesc Fabregas has not proved as damaging as first feared, with Frenchman Samir Nasri shining in the Spanish star’s absence.
Nasri scored both goals in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Fulham last weekend, the second a sublime combination of slick footwork and balletic balance.
“Sami is now showing his best and has more to show,” said Sagna. “We only beat Fulham because of him. He is a really good guy and fits in well with everyone on the pitch.”
The 23-year-old Nasri added: “Before I felt too much pressure to score, I wanted it too much maybe. Now I don’t worry as much. I’m more at ease in the game and I’m not just looking for goals, I’m looking to work for the team.
“I think I’m more mature in my football. I think more with my head.”
When Arsenal and Partizan met in Belgrade, the Gunners won 3-1 in a match where home defender Marko Jovanovic was sent-off early in the second half.
Partizan’s second appearance among Europe’s elite has been disappointing and in stark contrast to their domestic form where they have won eight straight games to currently top Serbia’s Superliga.