Arsenal: Cech, Debuchy, Elneny, Holding, Nelson, Coquelin, Willock, Maitland-Niles, Wilshere, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Macey, Osei-Tutu, Akpom, Dasilva, McGuane, Nketiah, Sheaf
Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal maintain their winning start to their Europa League campaign as the Gunners ran out 1-0 winners in Serbia against Red Star Belgrade.
On a night when quality in the final third was thin on the ground, the Frenchman produced a stunning volley to steal all three points with six minutes remaining. Half chances had earlier fallen to Theo Walcott and Reiss Nelson but it wasn’t until the home side were reduced to ten men on 80 minutes that the Gunners made their pressure pay.
Against the backdrop of a raucous home atmosphere, the Gunners made a steady, if unspectacular, start to the game. It was fun listening to the deafening whistles every time we held onto the ball for any prolonged period of time.
Jack Wilshere was at the centre of the action, snapping into challenges and deftly conducting Arsenal’s forward play. He was also the subject of some rough treatment but seemed to cope ok.
Chances for both sides were few and far between. Walcott tested keeper Borjan after a Wilshere free-kick on 14 minutes was half-cleared but that was about it from Wenger’s men.
Arsenal’s makeshift centre-back trio, made up of Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny and Mathieu Debuchy, held up well enough initially but they were nowhere to be seen when Richmond Boakye headed onto the bar from a 25th-minute corner. It was a let off.
Five minutes later Petr Cech, in for the injured Ospina, made a fine stop from close range to deny Nemanja Radonjic. Reiss Nelson then did well to block the follow up.
That aside, it was a game lacking any real quality.
Arsenal had several decent chances to break the deadlock inside the first five minutes of the second period. After a penetrating run by Wilshere, Walcott skewed a shot so badly it provided Giroud with a chance of his own to pounce. Caught by surprise the Frenchman couldn’t get any purchase on his shot.
Next, Walcott made a mess of things again, miskicking a Nelson cross. The youngster then took matters into his own hands in the following attack, forcing a Borjan into a save at his near post. A frustrated Giroud let loose from 25 yards but his effort flew over.
As the game stretched out the home side also had chances. Cech first dealt with a header from Nenad Krsticic, then the veteran stopper came to Elneny’s rescue after the Egyptian played a back pass straight to Radonjic.
The initial spurt of action soon gave way to more of the turgid stuff we’d seen before the break. Giroud looked very lonely up front, rarely winning any balls tossed up to him, Walcott faded and Wilshere’s touch started to desert him.
It was heartening at least to see Coquelin get a booking, at least some things will never change. The France midfielder was on the receiving end of a hefty challenge from Milan Rodic who was promptly shown a second yellow and given his amrching orders. It looked pretty harsh.
On 84 minutes Arsenal finally made the breakthrough and it came from a stunning move. The Frenchman, up for FIFA’s Puskas award this year, produced a stunning acrobatic volley to finish superb tiki-taka interplay between Wilshere and Walcott. It was a moment of quality that the game didn’t really deserve.
oh MY god pic.twitter.com/vNxtP9o5fI
— Gene Oliver (@genepoli) October 19, 2017
Arsenal should seal qualification from the group stage when Red Star visit the Emirates in two weeks time.