Red Star Belgrade vs Arsenal – Thursday, October 19, 18:00BT/19:00CET – Rajko Mitić Stadium, Belgrade.
Arsène Wenger was confident heading to Vicarage Road on Saturday. Despite missing Alexis Sánchez and Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners were enjoying a mini-revival in the Premier League, winning three of their last four games. Watford, meanwhile, were still recovering from their pasting against Manchester City, with Troy Deeney enduring a 13-game goalless streak.
Nobody was surprised, however, by the manner of Arsenal’s 2-1 collapse in Hertfordshire. After Per Mertesacker rifled in his first Premier League goal in 18 months, his side’s familiar frailties resurfaced, first when Hector Bellerín tumbled into Richarlison to earn the home side a penalty. Troy Deeney sent Petr Cech the wrong way before Tom Cleverley slotted home a likely winner in injury time.
“I have to watch what I say,” Deeney told BT Sport after being asked what had prompted his side’s victory .”But it’s [having] a bit of cojones”. It’s a refrain that Gunners fans have grown accustomed to, with Saturday’s collapse just the latest addition to a cinema of slapstick failure. Arsenal were hopeless, clueless and – most importantly – remain winless away from home.
They can ill-afford a similar collapse on Thursday. Red Star are far from the halcyon days of Darko Pančev and Robert Prosinečki, but they have made a strong start to the SuperLiga after being pipped by their eternal rivals Partizan in the previous campaign, losing just one of their twelve fixtures thus far.
Richmond Boakye is the obvious threat. The Ghanaian striker, whose goals have piqued the interest of both Chelsea and Celtic, will seak to exploit a Gunners defence running low on confidence and leadership. Manager Vladan Milojević will also be keen to preserve their impressive record against English sides, with five wins from the last eight encounters in Europe.
Wenger should give recalls to both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud in Belgrade. Jack Wilshere, Rob Holding and David Ospina will all come in, as the visitors rotate their squad in advance of Sunday’s visit to Goodison Park. Even with the changes, though, Wenger will expect his side to beat the Serbians comfortably, as they cling to a season that already seems to be falling from their grasp.
Red Star Belgrade vs Arsenal – Player to look out for
Richmond Boakye #14 – Red Star
The 24-year-old has always been talented. Antonio Conte knew as much when he coached him briefly at Juventus a few years ago. But after fleeting nomadically between several clubs, the Ghanaian has finally found stability in Belgrade, and his 14 goals in 13 calendar games this year speak of a man brimming with intent. Wenger need only review his hurtling strike against FC Köln in the last game, to know that this is a man whose ability should not be taken lightly.
Jack Wilshere #10 – Arsenal
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” cried a section of the Arsenal support at Vicarage Road on Saturday, as Arsenal’s number ten watched his side crumble to their latest humiliation. It speaks volumes, perhaps, that the glass-legged Wilshere is the player Arsenal fans now turn to to arrest their current decline. But after a a poor loan spell at Bournemouth last year, Wilshere’s latest last chance should arrive in Belgrade on Thursday, with Wenger declaring him to be “in the best form I’ve seen him for a long time”. He really needs to be, if he wants to seal a place in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
Red Star Belgrade v Arsenal – Match Stats
- The sides have met only once in history, with Alan Sunderland’s strike at Higbury not enough to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the 1978 UEFA Cup.
- Bolton Wanderers were the last English team to beat Red Star in European competition, back in 2007.
- Theo Walcott has scored six in his last eight European appearances.
Futbolgrad Prediction: Red Star Belgrade vs Arsenal – 1-2
Red Star Belgrade vs Arsenal – Possible Lineups
Red Star Belgrade
Borjan – Gobeljić, Babić, Le Tallec, Stojković – Donald, Milijaš, Ricardinho, Srnić – Boakye, Pešić
Coach: Vladan Milojević
Ospina, Holding, Mertesacker, Koscielny – Maitland-Niles, Wilshere, Elneny, Nelson – Walcott, Iwobi, Giroud
Coach: Arsène Wenger
Chris Weir is a Senior Writer for These Football Times and has appeared on The Guardian, TalkSPORT and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @chrisw45