For a time it looked like Arsenal FC's qualification for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase was in jeopardy but, after surviving to take their accustomed place among Europe's elite, the London side were backed to go all the way to the final itself.
Almami Moreira, FK Partizan's best performer as they slid to a sixth defeat in Group H, saw at first hand the quality Arsenal possess and it prompted him to declare that only FC Barcelona of this season's participants play superior football.
The Guinea-Bissau midfielder told UEFA.com: "
Arsenal are a great team and, after Barcelona, they are the ones playing the most beautiful football. Because of that I believe they can go all the way to the final.
"It's the team that is most impressive about Arsenal, although I would pick out [Samir] Nasri as one of their better players along with [Cesc] Fàbregas. When one player doesn't do something, another player steps in to get it done. They are a fantastic group."
For all the quality in their ranks, Arsenal were not at their sharpest as they sought an 11th consecutive berth in the last 16. Robin van Persie's first-half penalty looked to have set them on their way, but the fans were given some anxious moments after Cléo levelled on 52 minutes; a goal then for SC Braga at FC Shakhtar Donetsk would have left Arsène Wenger's team staring at elimination.
Arsenal goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański felt the equaliser was harsh on his side, however, as Cléo's shot took a deflection off Sébastien Squillaci which put it beyond his reach. "When you look at the full 90 minutes, they did not really create another chance," he said. "After the goal, we started to play more offensively, pushed on and scored two more goals."
Those late efforts from substitute Theo Walcott and Nasri made it a comfortable 3-1 victory in the end, yet it was not enough to wrest first place from Shakhtar, who ran out 2-0 winners against Braga. That means the Gunners could now face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid CF or FC Bayern München after the round of 16 draw is made next Friday. "They are all tough teams in the Champions League," Fabiański added. "
It's not an easy competition. Whoever we play next will be difficult."
Partizan, meanwhile, head into their winter break with a five-point advantage in the Serbian Super League which will stand them in good stead as they try to return to the UEFA Champions League next season. "The competition is strong and we've learned that you cannot afford to make mistakes because teams like Arsenal will take advantage," added Moreira. "We need more experience to give a better account of ourselves and next year we could be much better."
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