Arsenal v Partizan: Qualify first, ask questions later
Arsenal v Partizan Belgrade, Champions League Group H, Emirates Stadium, 7.45pm
Arsenal must win to guarantee progress in the Champions League tonight, and Arsene Wenger has warned against complacency despite the fact that Partizan Belgrade arrive at the Emirates without a Group H point to their name.
However, as Wenger knows only too well in this strangest of seasons, there is no such thing as a home banker.
A Partizan upset would be a shock, but if a list of freak results were to be compiled it would rank alongside the disastrous home defeats to West Brom, Newcastle and Spurs that have blighted Arsenal’s campaign.
Arsenal’s seat at the top table of European football has been assured under Wenger, with the Gunners successfully reaching the knock-out stages every season since the turn of the millennium.
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The fact this is often overlooked, just goes to show how established Arsenal have become amongst the European elite, and Wenger will be determined that his side stay there.
For those optimists that view the glass as half full, the Gunners could end up table toppers if they overcome Partizan and current group leaders Shakhtar lose at home to Braga.
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“The Champions League is an important part of our targets for the season and so it’s simple, we want to win,” said Wenger.
“The team will focus to give a good game and we want to produce the result our fans expect, that is normal.”
“We have put ourselves in a tricky position by losing the last two games [ to Donetsk and Braga]. I’m confident we will deliver the requested performance and the qualification.”
Qualification in second place will mean that Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are possible opposition, but there are some dangerous teams awaiting group winners too. Inter Milan, second behind Tottenham in Group A, and their rivals AC Milan to name but two.
Wenger is keen to dissuade all talk of last 16 permutations, however, and concentrate on the job of defeating a Partizan side who can count themselves a little unlucky to be bottom and pointless thus far in Group H.
They certainly gave the Gunners a few scares over in Serbia in September when Arsenal emerged 3-2 winners, and were only beaten 1-0 in Donetsk, where Arsenal came a cropper last month.
That defeat for Arsenal was followed by the 2-0 defeat in Braga that has left them still possibly needing victory tonight to progress.
In truth, a Braga win Donetsk is about as likely as Partizan getting a result at the Emirates. But as already seen this season, nothing can be taken for granted.
With the Gunners heading the Premier League table and also in the last four of the Carling Cup, Wenger will want juggling balls for Christmas, if the four-pronged assault on silverware is kept alive, as it surely will be, tonight.
Likely Arsenal line-up