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A late strike from Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal a 1-0 victory over ten-man Red Star Belgrade at Rajko Mitic Stadium in Europa League Group H.
A largely unmemorable tie in Belgrade saw Arsenal dominate for the majority without finding a breakthrough. However, a red card for Red Star’s Milan Rodic on 80 minutes gave the Gunners the impetus for the closing stages of the tie. After some superb build-up play by Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott floated a header into the box where Giroud finished with an overhead kick of perfection.
In the group’s other game, BATE Borisov beat Koln 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Aleksey Rios. The results leave Arsenal unbeaten after three matches and top of the of the pile, ahead of BATE in second, Red Star in third and Koln bottom of the group.
The opener almost arrived for the Gunners on 15 minutes in the Serbian capital. A free-kick into the box from the Premier League side wasn’t properly cleared by the Red Star defence, allowing the ball to be fed to Walcott on the right of the box with a wide-open goal. However, the England international couldn’t find the net with his effort blocked away by the feet of goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Ten minutes later, Red Star came even closer to breaking the deadlock. Loose marking from a corner by the Gunners saw the ball reach Richmond Boakye, who connected with a ball swung in from the set-piece, heading downward with the ball hitting the turf before bouncing up against the left upright and away, with Petr Cech seemingly beaten in nets.
Those two major chances punctuated a subdued first half in Belgrade, with Red Star content to sit back and play a patient game, rather than try to press the visitors. Arsenal lacked any real bite or quality in the final third, with a few Wilshere crosses the only other real danger they had created in the Red Star area.
Three minutes after the resumption Walcott had a second chance of the night to mark himself onto the scoresheet. Wilshere and Joseph Willock combined to open up room for Walcott to shoot, only for the striker to snatch at the effort and instead pull it across the face of goal, where Giroud stuck out a leg as he attempted to get on the end of it, but only succeeded in diverting the ball high into the air.
That pressure continued from Arsenal as Reiss Nelson pounced on a loose ball in the Red Star box, before squirming free of his marker and forcing Borjan into a save at his near post.
Red Star responded to the increased tempo by creating a chance of their own, with Nenad Krsticic beating Mathieu Debuchy to a cross into the box, and directing his header on goal, with the effort a perfect height and direction for Cech to take comfortably. Krsticic was in again when a poor back pass from Mohamed Elneny allowed the midfielder to collect and shoot from an angle with Cech forced to palm the strike away.
After that flurry of chances the game fell back into its pattern of patience over penetration, with Arsenal controlling possession, while unable to tease much past the Red Star backline.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Arsenal were given the clear advantage for the remainder, when Red Star left-back Rodic was shown a second yellow card for a challenge on Francis Coquelin. In truth it was a 50-50 ball, which Coquelin made a meal of with some top-level dramatics, and the referee bought it.
Within five minute of the red card, the Gunners struck for the winner. Wilshere commenced the move with a turn and drive, before feeding Walcott, who involved Wilshere in a 1-2, before heading across goal to Giroud, where the Frenchman performed an acrobatic overhead kick to nestle the ball in the top-left corner of the net.
You can watch all of Arsenal’s Europa League campaign on the eir Sport pacakge. Arsene Wenger’s side face FC Koln, Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov in Group H.
Image: Getty/Srdjan Stevanovic
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