Arsenal Vs Red Star Belgrade: Highlights and analysis from frustrating draw

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and Crvena Zvezda at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and Crvena Zvezda at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) /

Arsenal hosted Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday night. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 0-0 draw.

A frustrating but nonetheless sufficient draw. That is perhaps the best way to describe Arsenal’s outing on Thursday night. Although the 0-0 draw against Red Star Belgrade ended a run of 13 wins at the Emirates in all competitions, as well as scuppering their 100% European record this season, Arsene Wenger can now use the final two group games as opportunities to start even more of the talented youngsters that are beginning to come through. A win would have been nice.  A win would have been expected. A draw will do.

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As the game settled into its rhythm, Arsenal began to dominate. But early on, it was Belgrade who controlled the game. Although there was a lack of incision and purpose in their play, keeping the ball in deep zones, with Arsenal happy to sit back and relinquish possession, there was never much threat offered.

In fact, the best, and almost only, chance of the first 25 minutes fell to Olivier Giroud. Jack Wilshere played a nice first-time pass out to the left flank, giving Ainsley Maitland-Niles a rare, early opportunity to drive at the Belgrade defence. As he feigned to drift inside, he chopped the ball back across his body and drove to the by-line. He picked out Giroud with a neat cut-back, but the Frenchman fired his first-time effort straight at Milan Borjan, who cleared with his legs. Matt Maecy did gift an opening to Belgrade with a poor clearance, but Rob Holding was on duty to snuff out the danger. Otherwise, chances were hard to fashion.

Francis Coquelin, after brilliantly reading the game and intercepting a pass, failed to see Jack Wilshere who had looped round to his left to be left free in the penalty area; a fierce cross from Slavoljub Srnic teased its way across the six-yard box before being put behind by a stretched Mathieu Debuchy; Olivier Giroud saw his shot well closed down by Milan Borjan after a great break forward from midfield by Joe Willock.

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Although Arsenal continued to dominate possession, it was Belgrade who engineered the two best chances of the whole half. Matt Macey brilliantly tipped Vujadin Savic’s header onto the crossbar, before Richmond Boakye, Belgrade’s top goalscorer for the season and primary striking threat, was fed clean through, only to skew his shot past the near post with an extremely poor attempt.

Arsenal’s passing was very sloppy. Even Jack Wilshere, a player who takes great care of his distribution, was loose. Francis Coquelin, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud. All were guilty of being dispossessed far too easily. There was a lack of movement and fluidity, the team’s play was aimless and safe, and chances were difficult to create. It was not a great half from football by any stretch of the imagination.

The second half continued in very much the same manner. Although Arsenal enjoyed periods of penetration, especially when Jack Wilshere was able to influence the game, for the most part, they struggled to cut through a disciplined and regimented Belgrade defence. Olivier Giroud did flash a shot over the bar before skewing another wide, and Joe Willock, if not for better decision-making and timing, could have slipped Theo Walcott in. But chances were far from clear-cut.

In fact, the only one was Jack Wilshere’s dink after he nicked the ball away from Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ brilliant turn. The shot, though, was acrobatically cleared off the line, and the frustration remained. As the game progressed, Wenger began to roll the dice. He brought on Eddie Nketiah, the saviour against Norwich City the week prior for Joe Willock, shifting Wilshere into a central midfield role, who did provide a little more directness and purpose, driving forwards with pace and intention.

There were chances at either end to close out the game. Theo Walcott misfired on a couple of opportunities, heading Wilshere’s angled cross just wide of the post, before turning and failing to gain any real purchase on his spun shot, while Richmond Boakye again missed the target when through on goal, taking advantage of the space vacated by an injured Mathieu Debuchy.

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But, ultimately, this would be a game in vain for the Gunners. They huffed and they puffed. But without that cutting-edge quality that has been present so far in the Europa League, Belgrade’s defence remained unblemished. However, with FC Koln surprisingly beating BATE Borisov, Arsenal have qualified for the knockout stages, and can now re-focus their attention on the Premier League and Manchester City. That is where the real test is.