Arsenal Vs Red Star Belgrade: Recap, highlights and analysis

BELGRADE, SERBIA - OCTOBER 19: Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Europa League group H match between Crvena Zvezda and Arsenal FC at Rajko Mitic Stadium on October 19, 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
BELGRADE, SERBIA - OCTOBER 19: Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Europa League group H match between Crvena Zvezda and Arsenal FC at Rajko Mitic Stadium on October 19, 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images) /

Arsenal travelled to Serbia on Thursday night to take on Red Star Belgrade. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 1-0 win.

Arsenal had to work hard for their Thursday night win this time around, waiting until the 85th minute to break the deadlock with a fabulous Olivier Giroud finish. But through patience and perseverance, they were able to break down their hosts, overcome a stubborn and resolute Red Star Belgrade, and maintain their 100% record in the Europa League.

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The first half started in a surprisingly open manner. While Arsenal probed through the questioning passing of Jack Wilshere, Belgrade, thanks to some real pacy, direct runs off the ball and a naively high defensive line from their visitors, were able to get in behind down either wide channel, exposing the advanced positioning of the wing-backs and the reluctance of the centre-halves to be dragged out of the central area.

The best chance of the first half fell to Theo Walcott, who was Arsenal’s primary threat throughout, exploiting his searing speed with several darts in behind, most of which were marginally missed by a stretching pass. A deep free-kick, which nearly fell to Mathieu Debuchy, was poorly dealt with by Belgrade, and as Rob Holding did his best effort to turn a shot goalwards, the ball squirmed through to Walcott at the back past with time and space to pick his spot. Unfortunately, the spot he picked was the centre of the goal, and Milan Borjan’s trailing legs deflected the tame effort clear.

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Arsenal struggled to engineer any other clear-cut chances throughout the half, though did still maintain an element of danger. Reiss Nelson provided a little pace and purpose driving forwards every now and then down the right flank, Wilshere continued to frustrate a little, one moment swerving past a defender and sliding a through ball into the channel, and the next, losing possession with a loose first touch, and their passing was safe and accurate, if a little conservative and blunt at times.

Belgrade, meanwhile, would not go away. They remained solid defensively, disciplined in their positioning, diligent in their tracking of runs, and industrious in their work-rate, but also offered a threat at the other end. Their piercing runs down either channel were causing Arsenal problems, most notably Rob Holding, who struggled in choosing when to drop deep and track the runner and when to step up, triggering the offside, and they did have troubling shots on goal.

Richmond Boakye hit the crossbar from an angled header at the far post after finding space at a corner, and Petr Cech was forced into an excellent save in the 31st minute, as a clipped cross is poorly cleared by Arsenal, falling to Nemanja Radonjic who, on the swivel, strikes the shot goalwards, only to see it strongly parried clear by Cech. But both chances served as a warning for Arsenal. This was a very even first half, and they could have as easily been a goal behind as they could have been in the ascendency. Belgrade were vindicating their form, as were Arsenal.

In the second half, there was an immediate injection of intensity to the game. Both teams played at a much higher pace, pressing higher up the pitch, and fizzing passes in and out of the midfield with a greater precision and purpose. And chances came as a result. Theo Walcott dragged a shot wide of the mark that Olivier Giroud, inventively, attempted to flick towards goal, Reiss Nelson saw his lashed, near-post shot well-saved, while Petr Cech, at the other end, caught a powerful header that was, fortunately, directed down his throat, before rescuing Mohamed Elneny from a wayward back-pass. The match now felt like a contest.

And as the second half continued, Arsenal’s dominance grew, though chances were still difficult to eek out. Wilshere was having an increased influence on the game, driving forward with the ball at his feet, sliding past defenders in a typically slithering fashion, committing them to tackles, and winning fouls. Reiss Nelson also showed signs of life, bringing a greater directness to Arsenal’s play, linking up well with Olivier Giroud on several occasions, exploiting the hold-up, back-to-goal ability of the Frenchman. However, although possession was comfortable and the pressure slowly increased, chances were not easy to find.

Belgrade did end the game with only ten men on the field, as Milan Rodic saw yellow twice in the second half. The second incident came as he and Francis Coquelin jumped for the ball and the Belgrade defender was adjudged to have used the elbow to lever his way up to win the header. That was certainly not the case and Arsenal were lucky to end the match in the ascendency. And that numerical ascendency led to the crucial moment of the match.

Jack Wilshere, who was finally able to wriggle free in the midfield, skipped past a couple of defenders, was the architect. His surge forward committed defenders, ultimately creating the space that Olivier Giroud exploited to score. Wilshere, after darting forward, laid the ball off to Theo Walcott, who then played a one-two with Wilshere, skipped in behind the Belgrade defender, knocked a header back across the penalty area to Giroud, who brilliantly contorted his body to loop an acrobatic effort into the far corner. It was a wonderful goal that all but sealed the Arsenal victory.

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The win, ultimately, was deserved, if a little long in the waiting. But it leaves Arsenal top of the group, with nine points from nine, having played two of their games away from home. Arsene Wenger will be extremely happy with the Europa League campaign thus far, and is being rewarded by the blend of youth and experience that he has plucked for.