Coming off a win last weekend over Swansea, Arsenal looked to cement their place as group leaders as they played host to Red Star Belgrade. The Serbs played fiercely, and held the Gunners to a single point on a night when almost every veteran got a rest.
With Pep Guardiola’s Manchester Sh***y next on the fixture list, the team’s November will only get tougher.
For those of you living under a rock, Thursday’s rumble at the Emirates was, well, dull.
The score finished as it began at 0-0 and, despite a few chances at either end, the game never really got going. Olivier Giroud had an early shot saved, while the Gunner’s only other good scoring chance was cleared off the line after Jack Wilshere chipped the keeper in the second half.
On the other hand, Belgrade’s best chance was in the first 45, when Savic’s header was finger-tipped onto the bar by young Matt Macey.
Despite the fact Arsenal had scored 8 goals in the Europa League leading into the game, and that a win would have sealed top spot in the group with two games left, the team just didn’t look motivated.
Especially in the dying embers of the game, the boys didn’t seem to be desperate to score, instead content to dink the ball to and fro well away from the opponent’s net.
Statistically the match was tame, despite the fact Arsenal enjoyed 63.8% possession. Out of 11 shots, only 3 made it on goal, a tally matched by Red Star on the night.
For comparison, in Belgrade the Gunners took 11 shots, but 5 of them ended up on frame, eventually leading to the lone strike. I suppose the North Londoners can’t be entirely blamed, as Red Star did stay very organized in both games.
In fact, Belgrade has only allowed two goals in the group stage thus far, proving their defensive aptitude. However, Premier League hopefuls shouldn’t struggle to score against ‘lesser’ clubs.
Speaking of defense, there were a few bright spots there for the team. Macey, as mentioned before, had a solid game, saving the one true test in the match and keeping his concentration otherwise.
Rob Holding is quietly gaining confidence, although we still haven’t seen the best he has to offer. As Wenger said before kickoff, he is developing better than most defenders his age.
Mohamed Elneny, while not a natural CB, also did well, despite being caught out of position once or twice. The Egyptian also at least tried to get the offensive game going, advancing forward as if his name was Thomas Vermaelen.
Meanwhile, Matheiu Debuchy‘s distribution was probably the best of the back line. In his two games in the Europa League this year, he has accrued an 83% passing conversion rate, making an average of 79.5 per game.
It would seem the Frenchman is creating a selection headache for the boss ahead of the final two matches of the group stage.
The goal was, of course, to wrap up the group after game number 4, and allow even more Academy players to make their impact felt. That didn’t happen, but the team did secure their place in the round of 32, so the boys are well on their way to finishing top.
They are on 10 points, 3 wins and a draw, with the next closest team stuck on 5 (Red Star Belgrade), with BATE Borisov and Cologne on 4 and 3 points, respectively. Arsenal also have one more home game left in the group, against BATE, who they beat 4-2 away.
So, there is no reason to think the team won’t win the group, but it was a frustrating night when the likes of Wilshere, Giroud and Walcott can’t breach the opponent’s net. Red Star can only finished with 11 points, so one win or two draws would do the job, assuming they win out.
So long as the team finishes top, they should avoid the really tough tests during the first round or two of the knockout portion. With Borussia Dortmund, Athletico Madrid and Napoli all sitting third in their Champions League groups, Arsenal may be worried about the draw if they only finish second.
It is hugely unlikely that the boys will miss out on top of the group, even if the youngsters do take over the competition completely, so no need to worry…yet!
It is just too easy with their name.
For those of you not living on this planet, Pep’s City have taken the Premiership by storm, winning 9 of their first 10 games, the only dropped points being a 1-1 with Everton. Their five-point lead on top is impressive in and of itself, but their goal tally is the real shocker.
35 goals to the good, with just 6 conceded, for Guardiola’s men means they average 3.5 goals per game to just .6 goals against.
Compare that to the Gunners who have netted just 19 times and conceded 13 already, and you understand just why our boys are underdogs.
Although those numbers are scary, there are some other ones which make it feel like we have a chance. Since the 14-15 season, City have beaten the Gunners just once in all competitions, the come from behind victory last December.
That loss is offset by 4 wins and 4 draws. Last season the teams squared off three times, including the 2-1, with each team winning one, drawing one and losing one.
Then again, there are yet more figures which suggests Wenger may be in trouble…well you know what I mean!
The team has struggled mightily away from home this year, registering losses to Stoke, Liverpool and Watford. They did get the great 0-0 result at Stamford Bridge, as well as the 5-2 over Everton, but overall have showed little to no consistency on the road.
It feels like more than just two years since that great 2-0 win at City, highlighted by our missing talisman, Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal have a lot of danger men to watch out for, so the game will be very tough for them. However, if the midfield four can play like mad men, they have got a chance for a result.
Bellerin and Kolasinac will have their hands full with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, both in scintillating form. Meanwhile, Ramsey and Xhaka will have to defend the way they did at the Bridge, lest they will leave too much room in the half-spaces for De Bruyne & Co to exploit.
With Lacazette/Sanchez/Ozil up front, it is unlikely either team will come away with a clean sheet.
Man Sh***y 1-1 Arsenal
Time to leave your thoughts; who would you start? What did you think of the Red Star match? Do the boys have a chance against City?
Let me know in the comments below