Fabianski: I am ready for Chelsea
Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski claims he is "ready for Chelsea" after answering his critics with a fine display for Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League against Partizan Belgrade.
The 25-year-old 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 Bromwich Albion 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."
He added: "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 is why I am grounded."
There could have been a tense finale against ten-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."