Olivier Giroud stunner helps Arsenal snatch victory in Belgrade
Europa League Group H – Red Star Stadium – Red Star Belgrade 0 Arsenal 1 (Giroud 85)
A wonderful goal embroidered a miserable game, and because of it (and because of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud) Arsenal are clear at the top of Group H, now cruising towards the knockout stages.
Little of note happened in the first half. Its best chance fell to Theo Walcott, who drove a free shot too close to Milan Borjan, but Red Star came close twice: Richmond Boakye headed against the post, and Petr Cech saved well from Nemanja Radonjic.
After half-time, Wilshere was more aggressive, driving at the Red Star defence whenever possible. But as time elapsed, both sides looked happy to settle for a draw - and then, with nine minutes remaining, Milan Rodic was sent-off. Just four minutes later, Wilshere again carried the ball towards goal, twice found Walcott who nodded into the middle, and Giroud finished spectacularly via an overhead kick.
So, Arsenal lead Group H with nine points; behind them, BATE Borisov, Red Star and Koln, on 4, 4 and 0 points respectively, are surely playing for second place.
When will Wenger play his first XI? Arsenal have more than enough to win this group with reserves, but given they are not one of England’s four best sides, and given the pleasure in glory, he really ought to try and win the competition. But will his ego let him?
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal): Easily the best player on the pitch, very few midfielders can move with the ball like him. Can he stay fit and deliver against better teams?
Red Star: Borjan 6, Stojkovic Le Tallec 6, Savic 6, Rodic 6, Donald 5, Krsticic 5, Sonic 6, Kanga 6, radonjic 5, Boakye 6. Subs: Babic 6, Pesic 6, Grobeljic 6.
15’ - First proper chance of the match. Arsenal win a free-kick, chipped into the box. Giroud and Debuchy both pursue the bounce, and the former forces it across to Walcott, eight yards out with a clear sight of goal. He really should score, but needs either power or direction, not quite finding enough of either, and Borjan saves with his foot.
26’ - Krsticic takes the corner, curls towards the far post, and Boakye, completely unmarked, steps back to head down - luckily for Arsenal, not powerfully enough - and the ball bounces, the drifts against the post.
30’ - Srnic nashes down the right and crosses for Radonjic, who takes a nice touch to control as Nelson dashes past the ball. He then spins into a shot, saved well at the near post by Cech, and the rebound is snaffled clear by a repositioned Nelson.
48’ - Nice from Arsenal, Willock into Wilshere who runs at the Red Star defence before feeding through a return. Willock shows lovely balance to drag past his man and eventually the ball breaks across the box, where Walcott screws his kick and Giroud fluffs his shot.
49’ - Now Nelson nashes down the right and crosses ... again, Walcott misses his kick. But they maintain the pressure, the ball comes back in from the left, Coquelin toches it on, and Nelson is there again, driving a rising shot which Borjan claws away from his near post. The corner comes to nothing.
52’ - Nice from Boakye, who holds up and finds Stojkovic. He unfurls a fine cross, and Krsticic hurls himself at it ahead of Debuchy, but heads straight at Cech.
81’ - RED CARD! Rodic jumps early so is over Coquelin when he wins the header and perhaps tickles him with his arm; Coquelin collapses. The ref decides this deserves a second yellow card; I've not a scooby why.
85’ - WHAT A GOAL! Red Star 0-1 Arsenal (Giroud) Wilshere again drives forward with the ball, backheeling to himself then dipping inside two tackles. He slides to Walcott, flicks back the return first time, and Walcott then nods back across the box. there's nothing on, as Grioud has his back to goal, 10 yards out ... but he vaults into an overhead kick and finds the corner! Brilliant!