Arsenal wins their third straight match in Europa League Group H play a 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade.
The Guardians Amy Lawrence wrote:” It takes something unusual to create a moment of silence at Red Star Belgrade’s boisterous Marakana. Five minutes from the end of a Europa League encounter that scored higher on atmosphere than intrigue, Arsenal produced the game’s defining moment and for a few seconds the sound cut completely as the home crowd took in the blow.
What a blow it was. The move of the night was carved out by Jack Wilshere, who changed gear to burst into dangerous space and exchanged passes with Theo Walcott, who picked out Olivier Giroud. It had been one of those nights where Arsenal’s hulking frontman looked a bit tortured, nothing going for him, touches astray, movement on the leaden side. But in that moment he adjusted his body to send an overhead kick arcing into the net. Giroud’s status as a great goalscorer has been a source of debate over the years but he sure is capable of scoring a great goal. The finish was glossed with spectacular flourish.
Arsène Wenger chuckled afterwards as he confessed that Giroud had come over to the dugout during the game with a special message. “He came to the touchline and told me: ‘We will score.’ He knew more than I did. That’s Olivier Giroud. He keeps belief when it is tough. That’s why he scores at moments you didn’t expect him to score.”
The Europa League is fast turning into a tonic for Arsenal. While the Premier League slips create fretful anxiety, this competition has been an escape of sorts. Giroud’s matchwinner ensured a maximum nine points out of nine and they hold a five-point lead halfway through the group stage. Next month they play the return game with Red Star. Another win would see them safely qualified with two games to spare.
Resting key players with wholesale rotation can backfire, but so far Arsenal’s B-siders have proved able to enjoy the Europa experience. All in all they handled a tricky night well. Wenger had tried to brush off the atmosphere effect, suggesting his team were used to a similar ambience in the Premier League. But this was no run of the mill vibe.
The Marakana, packed an hour before kick-off, crackled with energy, the colourful choreography and bouncing fans shuddering behind the goal as the teams emerged and the decibels never dropped. If the Emirates is a smart and boring uncle, the Marakana was like a punk cousin turning up the attitude.
t was a night for cojones, to borrow the word of the week. Arsenal’s hotchpotch side, with a handful of kids and experienced fringe players thrown together, settled admirably enough.
The defensive compilation was on the eclectic side. Rob Holding had unfamiliar partners in Mohamed Elneny, a midfielder by trade, and Mathieu Debuchy, a full-back who has been injured for most of the past two and a half years. In the circumstances, reappearing all of a sudden after so long away from first-team football, the Frenchman found an impressive performance that potentially gives Wenger another defensive option.
“I am pleased for him, he survived 90 minutes without any setbacks,” the manager said. “He had only one half with under-23s on Monday night. Overall it’s a positive performance for someone who has been out for such a long time.”
Wenger was also particularly pleased with how the teenagers on show rose to handle the test. “They showed a lot of character. It’s not easy to express that at 18. To play in such a heated atmosphere shows how much resistance to stress they have, which is an important quality at this level.”
Interestingly, the sense of occasion got to Red Star. At times they were almost overenthusiastic and as they bounded into the box they had a tendency to be too breathless to make cool decisions. Turning gallons of desire into the hard currency of shots on target was the challenge, and it was unfortunate for them that they came up against Petr Cech in dominant form.
The Czech goalkeeper made an excellent save to deny Nemanja Radonjic’s slammed shot, and late in the game kept out two more promising Red Star efforts.
Arsenal were wasteful, too, until Giroud’s late intervention. Although the striker took the grandest bow, Wilshere’s enterprise and eye for a killer pass again shone. Wenger said that the midfielder is edging closer and closer to inclusion in the first string.
“He will get a chance in the Premier League, don’t worry for that. At the moment it is going that way. He got a big kick in first half on his ankle but managed to get through the 90 minutes. Games of that intensity will help him a lot.”
Late on Milan Rodic was sent off for a second bookable offence when he caught Francis Coquelin in the face with a stray arm. Vladan Milojevic, the Red Star coach, felt it was a game-changer and reckoned he sees worse in the Premier League without punishment. The 10 men could do nothing to stop Giroud making the most important noise of the night.”