Stanojevic: Partizan ready to punch above weight

BELGRADE - Partizan Belgrade will have to punch above their weight if they are to upset Arsenal in their Champions League Group H match on Tuesday, the Serbian club's coach Aleksandar Stanojevic said.

Partizan, who have won three successive league titles, have a squad worth an estimated 10 percent of Arsenal's and Stanojevic pointed out playing entertaining football was more important than getting a result against Arsene Wenger's side.

"I told the players to relax and just go out there and enjoy themselves because teams of Arsenal's stature come to Belgrade once in a decade," he told a news conference on Monday.

"Of course, we would love to come away with something from this game but that is always going to be a tall order against one of England's and Europe's football giants.

"Our fans will create a cracking atmosphere and we will have a go at Arsenal because all the pressure will be on them."

Partizan captain Mladen Krstajic is doubtful with a groin strain while Arsenal are set to field a decimated side after goalkeeper Manuel Almunia was ruled out with an elbow injury.

The Spaniard has joined long-term casualties Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Nicklas Bendtner and Cesc Fabregas on the sidelines but Stanojevic said Wenger had plenty of worthy replacements.

"Their youthful side thrashed Tottenham in the League Cup and no matter what team Arsenal field, they have a distinctive style of play which has been their trademark down the years," he said.

"They stuck to it even in the 3-2 Premier League home defeat by West Bromwich on Saturday and I don't think the visitors have really shown us the way how to play against Arsenal.

"It was a smash and grab win while we have to be crowd-pleasers on our turf and come forward more, so we will have four or five attacking players in our starting line-up."


Partizan became the first and to date the only Serbian club to reach the Champions League group stage in 2003, when they beat English club Newcastle United on penalties at St. James Park in the final qualifying round.

Their hopes of upstaging Arsenal on Tuesday largely rest on Brazilian-born striker Cleo, who was granted Serbian citizenship last week. He steered Partizan into this season's competition almost single-handedly with eight goals in six qualifiers.

The 25-year-old hitman has not featured in new Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic's plans so far after the coach said he would leave him out of his squad for the team's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Estonia and Italy in October.

Stanojevic, though, believes Cleo would be a bonus to Serbia after two impressive years in the country's first division.

"Not only does Cleo deserve an international debut, he deserves so much more because he is a fantastic player and a driving force even when he doesn't score," Stanojevic said.

"Cleo leads the line as effectively as anyone and is always a threat, hence I expect the other forwards to find room to operate against Arsenal if he is marked tightly."

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