Arsenal 0-0 Red Star Belgrade: Stalemate at Emirates
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Arsenal drew 0-0 with Red Star Belgrade in Group H on matchday four of the Europa League on Thursday evening.
After the razzmatazz of their North London rivals victory over Real Madrid at Wembley the evening before this was more sausages to caviar in Arsene Wenger’s memorable phrase.
Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud were all given a start - with Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez rested.
The Gunners, who have won all three Group H games so far, had the target of qualifying for the knockout stages if they won.
Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring), Sead Kolasinac (hip), Santi Cazorla (ankle), Danny Welbeck and David Ospina (both groin) were all out injured against Red Star.
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Eleven minutes into the match Ainsley-Maitland Niles squared for Olivier Giroud to fire at the visitors keeper Milan Borjan who gathered safely.
The Red Star fans were in good voice packed into the away end – but anyone having heard them in the tumult that was the Marakana two weeks again against Arsenal – no-one should have been surprised.
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Borjan then smothered another Giroud strike after good work down the flank from Joe Willock before Vujadin Savic had his looping header tipped onto the bar from Matt Macey.
The 23-year-old, making his European debut after being handed his first start for the club against Norwich City last week, showed great anticipation to keep the ball out. But at 23-years-old with such a lack of top flight experience – if not league action after a successful stint with Luton Town – you do wonder if he has a long-term future at the club.
One player whose future is still undecided is Jack Wilshere – who again looked masterful. The 25-year-old from Hitchin is mercifully running freely again and showed his leadership skills in a crowded midfield by talking through some of his younger colleagues.
What is also impressive about him is his persistence and mental strength. He is one of those rare players who is not afraid to lose the ball – meaning his natural inclination to inject a muscular creativity into proceedings isn’t inhibited by a fear of failure. If he loses the ball he simply attempts to win it back.
That attribute not only comes from a positive mindset but is fuelled by a fit-again frame. And long may it continue. Whether it is in the red and white of Arsenal next season is another matter entirely.
As the first half drew to a close Richmond Boakye missed a wonderful chance after being played through by former Ajax man Mitchell Donald.
Boakye has pedigree having once been on Juventus’ books – albeit failing to make a first-team appearance. He was also the leading scorer during the Europa League qualifying phase with eight goals, netted a spectacular winner against Cologne on matchday two and rattled the crossbar in the first match against Arsenal in Belgrade.
However the Ghanian again failed to find the net against the Gunners as Italian referee Luca Banti blew moments later for half-time with the game evenly poised at 0-0.
Despite plenty of endeavour the game fell into a lull – or as much of a lull as you get with constant support from 3,000 travelling Red Star fans.
On 65 minutes Wilshere again showed power and finesses by dispossessing Filip Stojkovic out on the left flank before driving into the box. Maitland-Niles offered support but the player Gareth Southgate has to pick for the forthcoming matches against Germany and Brazil brushed his team-mate aside to lift the ball over an onrushing Borjan.
However, Damien Le Tallec, the younger brother of former Liverpool striker Anthony, was on hand to clear off the line to keep the score goalless.
Wenger then replaced an energetic and willing Joe Willock for Eddie Nketiah with more than 20 minutes remaining.
But as the clock ran down the game became more disjointed and scrappy, punctuated with stoppages, and the final whistle when it came was a relief to those left in the stadium.
With Manchester City up next Arsenal can banish memories of that 4-0 rout by Liverpool in August with a win. Lose and the Europa League will officially be the only league they can win – and it’s not even Guy Fawkes night yet.
Over to you Wenger and Arsenal.