Arsenal were able to maintain their 100% record in the Europa League with a 85th minute winner from Olivier Giroud, as the Gunners fought to claim a 1-0 win away to Red Star Belgrade at the Rajko Mitić Stadium, this evening.
Following a 2-1 defeat away to Watford last Saturday, a heavily-rotated Arsenal side remained uninspired in the final third before an acrobatic finish from Giroud could give the North Londoners the victory against the ten men of Red Star.
Giroud was joined by Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott in attack, as Arsène Wenger made a total of nine changes for the Gunners’ trip to Serbia.
Mathieu Debuchy earned his first start for 11 months, whereas Mohamed Elneny, one of two survivors from the squad that lost 2-1 to Watford last Saturday, started the game at the heart of the English outfit’s defence.
After a positive start, it was through one of Arsenal’s most experienced names in Theo Walcott that the visitors registered their first chance of goal in the 15th minute, as Rob Holding hooked back a deep free-kick from Jack Wilshere for Walcott to hit on the turn and Milan Borjan to save with his feet.
Red Star’s danger man, Richmond Boakye, initiated the hosts’ response with a dangerous sighting at the near-post that required Petr Čech’s intervention, meanwhile the ex-Juventus striker was soon hitting the crossbar from the subsequent corner in the 25th minute, as he peeled off his marker to head his effort into the ground and back up onto the frame of the goal.
Nemanja Radonjic edged the Serbians closer to the opening goal in the 31st minute, firing a volley inside the box for Čech to save before Reiss Nelson remained alert to block the wide man’s rebound.
Both sides would go on to cancel each other out in the face of half-time to keep the goalless draw active going into the interval.
Arsenal re-entered the game well when making Borjan work on two occasions; firstly to gather up an Giroud touch that the Frenchman knew little of from Walcott’s skewed strike, and later through Nelson’s quizzing effort from the right that would be palmed away by the Red Star goalkeeper.
Nenad Krstičić followed the North Londoners’ early appetite for goal with a dangerous header at the other end for Čech to save in the 52nd minute, as the game began to intensify.
The game soon fizzled out, however, with Red Star later tasked with playing out the final ten minutes of the game with ten men following Milan Rodic’s sending off for striking Francis Coquelin with his arm in an aerial dispute.
Arsenal would soon take advantage of their numerical superiority, geared by a one-two between Wilshere and Walcott before Giroud could finish with an acrobatic improvisation in the 85th minute and break the deadlock in good time.
Wenger’s men held on to their late winner and make it three wins from three in Europe before facing Red Star again next month.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Petr Čech (7) – Mathieu Debuchy (6), Mohamed Elneny (6), Rob Holding (6) – Reiss Nelson (7), Joe Willock (6), Francis Coquelin (5), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6) – Theo Walcott (5), Jack Wilshere (7) – Olivier Giroud (5)