Arsenal and the Red Brigade tied nil-nil. The guys are on to the round of sixteen in the Europa League.
The Guardians David Hytner wrote:” Arsène Wenger had described it as his “biggest pleasant experience”. Never before, the Arsenal manager said, had he seen a squad that was so focused on every competition. In other words, his second-string team were on a mission to succeed in the Europa League.
hey rather ran aground here in terms of the overall performance, which was a slog and made for tough viewing. They did manage to chisel out a limited crop of chances – for Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere – but they came to nought and the home support chuntered.
Red Star Belgrade had their moments, most notably when Vujadin Savic saw a first-half header clawed on to the crossbar by Matt Macey and they carried a sporadic threat on the counterattack. In truth, this one had stalemate written all over it and yet, with Bate Borisov losing at Köln, the point was enough to ensure Arsenal’s advance to the knockout rounds.
Wenger had described it as a “big game”, which felt as though it was stretching things a little, but Arsenal were driven by the desire to get the job done; to close out qualification to the last 32 of the tournament.
Their campaign had opened here against Köln, on that crazy night when 20,000 Germans stormed north London. The travelling Red Star fans made it feel like another away game for Arsenal, as they belted out their anthems from the first whistle. Wenger’s team found themselves whistled in possession while their first-half corner takers in front of the away enclosure had to run a gauntlet. A part of Arsenal’s mission was to silence the Red Star diehards – which was always going to be a tough ask – and they looked to play off Giroud, whose battle against the visiting centre-halves, Savic and Damien Le Tallec, was bruising, to put it mildly.
Giroud had two chances during a scrappy first half, the first one being the clearest. Joe Willock and Wilshere combined to play in Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the left and when he beat Filip Stojkovic, Arsenal pulses quickened. His low cut-back allowed Giroud to swipe left-footed and first time for goal but Milan Borjan saved at his near post. Giroud’s opportunity followed an excellent piece of hustling by Willock. He won the ball off Red Star’s screening midfielder, Mitchell Donald, and surged away from him but, from his pass, Giroud found that the angle was against him. Borjan had left his line smartly and he was able to block.
Arsenal pressed on to the front foot but they struggled to get too much going before the interval and the moments of sloppiness on the ball were all too frequent. The movement ahead of it was not slick enough. Where were the options for the man in possession? When Francis Coquelin led a break, he only had Giroud to look for and the Red Star defenders knew it. Coquelin tends to look more comfortable without the ball. His pass was easily cut out.
Red Star punched on the counterattack and only the crossbar stopped them from taking an advantage into half-time. Nemanja Radonjic’s shot deflected up for Savic and his looping header looked to be destined for the net. Macey, who replaced Petr Cech, threw out a hand and pawed the ball up on to the woodwork.
Moments earlier, Slavoljub Srnic had extended Macey with a powerful shot while, on the stroke of half-time, Richmond Boakye ran clean through only to curl wastefully wide of the near post. Macey had got his angles right but it still added up to a bad miss.
The Red Star fans continued to bang their drums and sing their songs in the second half but the frustration of the home crowd simmered as their team laboured for cohesion. Wilshere seemed to sum up the desperation when he went down too easily inside the area, looking for a penalty. Savic had rather lunged in but the contact was minimal. The referee, Luca Banti, waved away the appeal.
Mohamed Elneny, who reprised his role as a ball-playing defender in the middle of the back three, endeavoured to spark Arsenal; he generally made the right decisions when he had the ball. But ahead of him, those in red got little change out of Red Star’s well-organised lines.
Arsenal might have feared it was not to be their night when Le Tallec made an extraordinary goal line clearance to deny Wilshere, who was generally peripheral but not as much as Theo Walcott. Wilshere appeared to have seen a move break down on the left-hand side of the area only to jab out a foot and keep it alive.
Maitland-Niles then won the ball and Wilshere took over, sensing the big moment. His cute chipped finish took out Borjan and was heading in until Le Tallec performed an acrobatic side-on volley to hook the ball away.”