Arsenal 0-0 Red Star Belgrade: It was boring

MATCH REPORT – PLAYER RATINGS – BY THE NUMBERS – VIDEO

“Return of the Eddie” – that was supposed to be the title of this morning’s blog.

I had it all planned out in my head. Nketiah was going to come off the bench to score a late winner and I was going to spend 10 minutes of the morning photoshopping his face on Luke Skywalker’s body. I had visions of him holding a lightsaber in one hand, the match ball in the other and my accompanying intro paragraph describing his amazing individual winner, polished off with a controversial handball finish, was going to climax with the most fantastically convenient Star Wars pun.

In the end, Arsenal’s performance against Red Star Belgrade was as far from out of this world as you could possibly get.

Yes, we ticked Europa League qualification off our to-do list but the 0-0 draw, played out in front of a lot of empty seats at the Emirates, was instantly forgettable. You’ll struggle to watch a more drab game of football this season.

As expected Arsene Wenger kept faith with most of the squad that beat Norwich City in the Carabao Cup last week. That meant starts for Wilshere, Giroud and Walcott in attack, Coquelin and Willock in midfield, Maitland-Niles and Nelson on the flanks and Holding, Elneny and Debuchy at the back. In goal, Matt Macey made his European debut deputising for the injured David Ospina.

The 23-year-old keeper’s distribution was a bit dodgy in the opening stages but he more than made up for that with a couple of acrobatic saves late in the first half to preserve a clean sheet.

His performance impressed the boss, who noted afterwards:

“I think he took his chance very well, he is huge, he is quick and you do not often find combinations of that size and that speed, he is very agile as well for a guy who is tall like that.”

The gentleman’s agreement between Wenger and Ospina will probably see the Colombian return to the starting line-up against Cologne at the end of the month but Macey looks a decent bet to challenge Emi Martinez in the future.

Not much else happened in the opening 45 minutes. Jack Wilshere, at the centre of so much of the pre-game chat, looked very isolated out on the left and without his inventiveness, we struggled to click in the final third.

Wenger didn’t seem too fussed:

“He needs these kinds of games to come back to his best level and what Jack needs is to be injury free for a long period until the end of the season and get games like that.”

Visiting keeper Borjan did twice deny Giroud at close quarters but it spoke volumes that the loudest cheer of the half was reserved for him falling over while trying to throw the ball out.

It was more of the same after the break. Arsenal dominated possession, kept getting caught on the break and squandered the few half chances they created.

When we finally worked a clear-cut opportunity, Wilshere’s dinked effort, taken off the toes of Maitland-Niles, beat the keeper only to be spectacularly cleared off the line.

He was somewhat apologetic: 

“I thought that was in. Ainsley probably won’t be happy with me as I took it off him, but I thought I could score. On another day it could have gone in, but it was great defending.”

I’m sure Jack can expect a visit from Ainsley’s mum.

It was interesting to watch Mohamed Elneny operating in the centre of defence again. He reads the game quite well, but his impatience seems to get the better of him.

Frustrated by Coquelin’s lack of invention/anything, and eager to get Arsenal pushing forward, he regularly roamed about the pitch looking for the ball. There was logic to his willingness to spray passes to the front men, but with his radar slightly off he often gave away possession. Despite that, deploying the Egyptian in defence is an experiment I think Wenger will keep trying. I’ve visions of him being our new Grimandi.

Jo Willock was solid, if unspectacular in midfield and Reiss Nelson looked bright when he dribbled at the Belgrade back line. He did lose his bearings a couple of times defensively, but at 17-years-old you can forgive that.

After the game, the boss had this to say:

“I think they started stronger than us, they played very well tonight. They played at a high pace, they were always dangerous on the breaks and they defended very well.

“In the second half I felt we dominated possession much more, played more in one half, but we lacked a bit of quality in the final ball, vision to find the right space and overall I must say it is a fair 0-0.”

The draw, coupled with Cologne’s 5-2 win over BATE Borisov, means we have a five point lead at the top of Group H. We’re through to the round of 32 where some interesting teams await. The likes of AC Milan, Lazio and Zenit St Petersburg are through already and there are some big names waiting to fall out of the Champions League. It’s a bit too early to start guessing who we’ll face in the next round, but the competition should heat up a bit.

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In other news, Santi Cazorla has revealed to Marca that he’s had eight operations on his Achilles since October 2016 and that doctors feared they may have to amputate his foot after he contracted gangrene. The Spaniard now has skin from his arm, including a chunk of his tattoo, grafted onto his ankle. It looks awful. We’ll have the quotes from the interview, released later today, on Arseblog News.

We can only wish Santi all the best in his recovery. Nothing would make us happier than to see him in an Arsenal shirt again.

Right, that’s your lot for today. Blogs is currently gallivanting around Sydney at the moment, but he’ll be back tomorrow. Have a great weekend.

31 COMMENTS

    • Having had 5 major operations including a failed skin graft on my right lower leg and spending a total of 3 months in hospital due to a minor cut getting an infection which did not respond to anti biotics I can fully appreciate what Santi is going through i came close to losing my leg ,it’s not very nice to say the least . Santi with his irrepressible cheeky smile and dancing feet is one of my all time favourite gunners and that encompasses 59 years of being a Gooner I wish him all the very best and hope to see him back in an Arsenal shirt at some point but if it’s not to be i thank him for providing some memorable moments not least his free kick vs Hull in the cup final of 2014 .

    • While I’d like to see him play a part on Sunday I can’t see Wenger giving him a premier league nod just yet. He looks a natural finisher he’s hungry and his movement is better than Walcotts and what a Roy of the Rovers moment it would be if he came off the bench to score a late winner against the Sheikh of Arabias harem of overpaid and overpriced eunuchs!

  1. Quite possibly the worst game of the season. And competition is fierce. Coquelin, el Neny, Giroud, Theo … Embarrassing from the senior lads.

    Such a big game on Sunday. Please don’t get tonked.

  2. I don’t know about you guys but the way City is playing at the moment, coupled with the manner of our defending (lol), I already made my peace with a loss on Sunday. However I wont accept a hiding because the team has had a whole week to rest, train and fine tune their roles and tactics. City had to play their main team and ran riot against a very dangerous Napoli. I don’t want any of those “learn from this” speeches after another insipid performance. About time we showed some tactics and beat a better team away from home against all odds.

  3. Feel so sad for Santi. Wish him a speedy recovery. I remember one of his greatest performances in an Arsenal shirt was against Man City away in a 0-2 win, a couple of years back. We gonna miss having his magical feet in our midfield this weekend.

  4. Arsenal are, more and more often, thoroughly boring these days. It feels like a long time ago that we were the team that wasn’t great but played great stuff and even longer since we were the team that was great and and played great stuff.

    I know it was a reserve team last night but the Everton match aside, there hasn’t been much entertainment on the pitch from any set of players. I won’t suggest it’s a concern for the board but it should be with those ticket prices. Looks like a stagnant, poorly coached squad watched by dwindling numbers of bored fans.

  5. what a shocking display, its so sad to see this once great club reduced to displays like this, it just goes to show we have no strength or depth at this club, this is why one or two first team players get injured we don’t have the players to replace them, I fear for this club, I really do, sad times

  6. These turgid midweek performances would be infinitely more bearable if the “First XI” were winning every week. Recent performances do not bode well for our weekend encounter with the citizens. However, a win against the realistic odds would certainly brighten matters.

  7. Agree with most of the posts about boring, toothless and uninventive. The senior lads being a disappointment as well.

    But, we didn’t lose and secured a place in the next stage. So job done, move along, nothing to see here.

    I feel Sunday will be best watched through an alcohol induced haze

  8. City are so gonna slaughter us….. We’re not only miles away from their level, also Spurs are so much better….yeah, come on, let’s give Arsene 5 more years in charge

  9. After all these years at the club giroud and Walcott still play like complete strangers thrown together for the first time, you’d have thought these two would’ve realised that this is where they are going to be for the majority of B team games this season and worked on a partnership no? Get closer together, work on Walcott running in to giroud knockdowns. They have all the makings of a decent duo but it obviously isn’t going to be coached them and they lack the basic nous to figure it out for themselves.

  10. I feel gutted for Santi, he was best CM we had after Fabregas. Whenever he got injured Arsenal’s play was not very convincing. I still feel we lost 2015-16 campaign because of his absence.

    • Why do you think he was so poor? I saw a player employed in a position that is not his natural one give a solid performance he contributed more than the likes of Coqulien and I believe had Jack not pulled rank and taken the ball of his toes as he was about to shoot that he was very likely to score as it was his persistence that recycled a ball Jack had lost and brought about our best chance and effort of the game ! Both him and Nelson are being used out of position and neither has let us down so far even if their best qualities are seen rarely due to the restrictions of the positions their being asked to play in.

  11. I live 100 miles away and hate missing games but when you know he’s going to put out a team that won’t entertain it really isn’t worth the time and train fare.

  12. Only been supporting the club since the 2010-11 season and in those years I have to say Santi Cazorla for me has been the best technical player we have had…he’s the joy of football and I can’t stress hard enough how sad it is that we could only see so little of him…what an absolute waste…so sad…I really hope he comes back.

  13. I thought it was a good game v red star most of the team had fast reactions not putting giroud down but if Alexis played his role who knows, although players were rested for city game good to see arsenal fc qualify

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