Fabianski ready for Bridge battle

The 25-year-old – who had been nicknamed ‘Flappyhandski’ by some

Gunners fans following a string of blunders – repaid the faith of

manager Arsene Wenger with two late saves, one from a penalty, as

Arsenal maintained their 100% start to Champions League Group H

with a hard-earned 3-1 victory in Serbia. It was the team’s first

European away win for more than a year and Fabianski could be set

to keep his place in goal this weekend. Regular number one Manuel

Almunia, himself under the spotlight after a below-par display in

the shock home Premier League defeat to West Brom last weekend, is

again doubtful for Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge because of an

elbow injury. Fabianski has been behind Almunia in the Arsenal

ranks since arriving from Legia Warsaw during May 2007. Yet despite

a number of high-profile errors – including in the 2009 FA Cup

semi-final defeat to Chelsea on a birthday to forget at Wembley,

away to Porto in the Champions League knock-out stage, and last

week when allowing Robbie Keane’s shot to squirm under his arms in

the Carling Cup win at arch-rivals Tottenham – Wenger always backed

the young Pole. Indeed, the Gunners boss wore a broad smile after

claiming the real Fabianski finally showed up at Stadion FK

Partisan. Fabianski, though, remains focused on the job at hand.

“Overall, I am pleased with my performance,” said the Pole, who

also had to deal with a summer of speculation as Arsenal looked to

bring in veteran Australian Mark Schwarzer from Fulham. “I am not

talking about just saves, but reading the game, coming for crosses

or playing with my feet. “Every aspect of goalkeeping is important

for me, so I am pleased with my performance in general.” Fabianski

declared: “I am ready to play against Chelsea. I was always ready,

so we will see. “I was never really bothered by all the things

said. I was always trying to focus on my job and my work. “That is

what I was always doing and that why I am grounded.” There could

have been a tense finale against 10-man Partizan had Fabianski not

kept out a late penalty from Cleo, who had earlier stroked a

spot-kick past the Pole to level 12 minutes before half-time. The

Arsenal goalkeeper also denied substitute Ivica Iliev with what was

arguably a more impressive save in stoppage time. Fabianski

celebrated wildly in front of the 1,000 travelling Arsenal

supporters behind his goal after diving full stretch to push the

penalty around the right-hand post. It was a significant moment in

both the tie and perhaps Fabianski’s Arsenal career. “We could not

be sure what would happen if it went 3-2,” he reflected. “There

were four minutes left and they could just throw all their players

up front and do everything possible to score a goal, but luckily I

saved the penalty and the game was easier to finish.” The

challenges, though, continue to come thick and fast for Wenger’s

young side. Before the short journey to Chelsea, Arsenal will check

on the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas, who is struggling to shake

off a hamstring problem, as well as centre-half Thomas Vermaelen,

out since the international break with an Achilles injury. The

Blues also lost last weekend, at Manchester City, and Fabianski

feels Arsenal can travel across to west London with renewed

confidence. “We are playing really well this season,” he said. “The

beginning was really good for us. There was a big shock on Saturday

when we lost, but I think you could see against Partizan that we

had learned some things from Saturday. “The performance was much

better so we are looking forward to the Chelsea game. “It is going

to be an exciting one to watch, and we are in good condition.”