Arsenal vs Red Star Belgrade – Thursday, November 2, 20:00 GMT/21:00 CET – Emirates Stadium, London.
Arsenal don’t do easy. In each of their last three fixtures, Arsene Wenger’s men have conceded early before labouring towards hard-fought victories. Sam Clucas’ 22nd-minute opener continued the trend on Saturday before responses from Sead Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey secured a vital three points for the home side.
The game, which was the Frenchman’s 800th in the Premier League, sees the Gunners maintain their unbeaten record at the Emirates. Swansea, who had conceded just one goal away from the Liberty Stadium since the start of the campaign, were defensively resolute for much of the match.
Their backs were broken, however, by a team learning the virtues of winning dirty. Wenger has made a business of promoting his side’s “mental strength” in recent years, but it’s only in the past few weeks that his team have shown it.
The timing is perfect. That an AGM received such widespread coverage speaks volume about the mood at Arsenal right now, but the wall-to-wall angst at Thursday’s event was typical of the club’s malaise. A chance to soothe supporters’ concerns instead had them up in arms, with Gaffemeister General Sir Chips Keswick’s condescending remarks riling an already-exasperated fanbase. Arsene Wenger – as he always does – struck the necessary tone, with an excellent speech that was well-received. It wouldn’t have mattered a jot, however, if his side hadn’t won against Swansea at the weekend.
For all the relief, however, Arsenal are entering a difficult period. Next Sunday sees them make the daunting trip to Eastlands to face table-toppers Manchester City, before the North London Derby against Tottenham on the following Matchday. November has always been a difficult month for Arsene Wenger’s men, with their point-per-game ratio tumbling considerably in the last month of Autumn as injuries and fatigue mount up.
All the more crucial, then, that they keep the momentum going against Red Star on Thursday. Arsenal did what they needed to do in Belgrade, with a dull game punctured by Olivier Giroud’s stylish winner.
To their credit, the Red Whites haven’t let that disappointment hurt their domestic form, with narrow wins secured over Mladost Lucani and Spartak Subotica in their last two games respectively. Aleksandr Pesic and Richmond Boakye have continued scoring, helping their side sit four points ahead of second-placed Partizan in the table. The Ghanaian’s strike enabled him to become Red Star’s highest-scoring foreign player, with 29 strikes.
Rob Holding will be given the task of keeping Boakye quiet. Wenger will also give a recall to Jack Wilshere, as the midfielder’s latest rehabilitation gathers pace, while Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott will be summoned from the bench. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson should continue to deputise at wing-back, and Joe Willock, who impressed with his tidy play at the Rajko Mitic Stadium, will also come back in.
Arsenal vs Red Star Belgrade – Player to look out for:
Aaron Ramsey #8 – Arsenal
After a tremendous EURO 2016, Aaron Ramsey ensured a problematic year in North London. A combination of injury and poor form restricted him to just 10 Premier League appearances, while his career best of sixteen goals was never likely to be threatened. This year, he looks back to his best, and a goal against Swansea was just rewarded for his impressive recent form. If he’s allowed to run off the ball, Red Star will pay handsomely.
Mitchell Donald #20 – Red Star
The 28-year-old struggled to make the grade at Ajax under Martin Jol but established himself in a decent three-year stint at Roda JC. After suffering a relegation in the Russian Premier League with Mordovia two years ago he moved to Red Star, becoming an essential anchor of their midfield. The Dutchman has a taste for yellow cards, but if he keeps his composure and is given time to feed balls to Boakye, he could be a threat.
Arsenal vs Red Star Belgrade – Match Stats
- Red Star lost on their last visit to Arsenal in 1978, but a 2-0 win in the first leg of their UEFA Cup encounter saw the Belgrade team progress.
- Arsenal are only the second English team to beat Red Star at the Rako Matic Stadium.
- Only five players have completed more passes than Mohamed Elneny in this years’ Europa League.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Arsenal vs Red Star – 2-0
Arsenal vs Red Star Belgrade – Possible Lineups
Ospina – Holding, Mertesacker, Chambers – Maitland-Niles, Wilshere, Willock, Nelson – Walcott, Iwobi, Giroud
Coach: Arsène Wenger
Red Star Belgrade
Borjan – Gobeljić, Babić, Le Tallec, Stojković – Donald, Milijaš, Kanga, Srnić, Boakye, Pešić
Coach: Vladan Milojević
Chris Weir is a Senior Writer for These Football Times and has appeared on The Guardian, TalkSPORT and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @chrisw45