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Arsenal 3 - 1 Partizan Belgrade: match report

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Kind of an awkward celebration, Robin. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Kind of an awkward celebration, Robin. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images

1 - 0 van Persie PK 29'
1 - 1 Cléo 52'
2 - 1 Walcott 73'
3 - 1 Nasri 77'

Arsenal qualified for the Champions League round of 16 today as Group H runners-up with a 3-1 victory over Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates.

It was a little more stressful than it needed to be, though, for 70 minutes, until Arsène Wenger's second substitute, Theo Walcott, put the Gunners ahead for good.

The first half was slow going for both sides, chances coming (all for Arsenal) few and far between.  Arsenal's first good chance came after 13 minutes, Marouane Chamakh heading over the bar from close range after a Samir Nasri cross.  Shortly thereafter, Kieran Gibbs turned his ankle and had to be stretchered off.  He came back on a minute later, but was unable to continue, and Emmanuel Eboue came on in his place.

The game continued at a slow pace, Partizan finding absolutely no way through, and Arsenal also not creating much of note until Robin van Persie gained control inside the penalty area before Marko Jovanovic brought him down.  van Persie got back up, brushed himself off, and buried the penalty kick to put Arsenal ahead 1-0.

The game then reverted to its former boring identity.  Shortly before the halftime whistle, van Persie missed a good opportunity, which Chamakh also couldn't finish.

After the restart, Partizan looked a little more ambitious.  Their goal, though, was classic Emirates-first-goal-for-opposition fare.  Cléo found himself on the ball, looked up, nobody closed him down, and he lasered a shot from 20 yards that deflected up off of Sebastien Squillaci and in.  It was another case of a visitor scoring with their first real shot on target at the Emirates, and another case of nobody closing down a shooter in a position to test Fabianski.  It's almost as if the team lulls themselves to sleep limiting opportunities and thus forgets that sometimes the other team will actually shoot.

At 1-1, the crowd grew more and more impatient, qualification in slight jeopardy.  Five, ten, fifteen minutes went past, Arsenal struggling to find good chances and Partizan looking more and more dangerous, Wenger making no changes until the 68th minute.  Theo Walcott came on for a lackluster Andrei Arshavin, and five minutes later, he popped up in the box to chest down a really bad clearance by Jovanovic and calmly twirl it into the far corner, restoring Arsenal's lead.

A huge sigh of relief for all involved, and Arsenal weren't through.  Arsenal came on the attack four minutes after Walcott's game-winner, Alex Song feeding newly-on Nicklas Bendtner, who returned it to Song in a little 1-2.  Song then found Samir Nasri just inside the box, Nasri turned, and Nasri buried low with his left foot.

3-1, all was well, only the late straight red card for Bacary Sagna and the injury to Kieran Gibbs putting a scar on the evening.

As for the competition, the Gunners finish second in Group H, so a round of 16 matchup with Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, Real Madrid, or Barcelona are options.  That is February.  For now, though, Old Trafford on Monday looms.