Arsenal draw a blank against Belgrade but qualify for Europa League knockout stages
Goalkeeper Matt Macey shines in goalless draw
02 November, 2017 — By Paul Cowling
Europa League Group H
RED STAR BELGRADE 0
ARSENAL went through to the knockout stages of the Europa League, despite being held to a disappointing goalless draw by Red Star Belgrade.
This was the first time, the Gunners had fired home blanks in Europe since February 2016.
But, despite that, FC Cologne’s thumping 5-2 win over Bate Borisov, ensured the Gunners progress, with two games to go in Group H. Post match, Arsenal Wenger said it was a ‘fair nil-nil’.
“They (Red Star) started stronger, but we dominated the second half, ” said Wenger.
Matt Macey came in for his European debut. The 23 year old was the only change from the starting X1 that ground out a 1-0 win in the away fixture with the Serbian club a fortnight ago.
The giant shot stopper, did just that towards the end of a tedious first period. First, parrying a cannon ball from Slavoljub Srnic, and then tipping a goalbound header from Vujadin Savic onto the bar.
“I think he took his chance well, said Wenger, talking about the young goalkeeper.
“Macey is agile. He is huge and quick. You don’t usually get that combination in a goalkeeper, reasoned Wenger.
Red Star keeper, Milan Borjan, was called into action too: twice he denied Olivier Giroud, which were the sum total of Arsenal’s attacking intent for virtually the entire match.
Pre-match, Wenger had warned of Red Star’s fast counter-attacking. Arsenal were duly caught out just before half time, but Richmond Boakye skewed a great chance wide of Macey’s goal. The Ghanian really should have scored.
This was a disjointed performance from Arsenal’s mix of youth and experience. Passes were going astray, and chances were few on a slippy surface.
Jack Wilshere – denied an England recall for the upcoming friendlies- must have thought he’d opened the scoring in the 64th minute, but after a jinking run, and link up play with Ainsley-Maitland Niles, his effort was hacked off the line by Damien Le Tallec.
Cries of ‘Eddie, Eddie’, greeted the goalscoring hero of the Norwich cup game, as Eddie Nketiah replaced Joe Willock going into the last 20 minutes, and with the match still goal-less.
But the England youth player could do little to effect a change. Red Star were a clear step-up from a Championship side.
This was like one of those frustrating Premier League games, where a so called ‘lesser light’, defends to the death, is organised, throws in a little time wasting and still fancies their chances to nick a winner. Boakye again had a chance to score for the Serbs, but Matthieu Debuchy did enough to force the effort wide.
This was a game that expectant Arsenal fans will want to forget. It was a drab match, despite a fair amount of goalmouth action.
By the time the board went up for four minutes injury time, you could clearly make out the white of the Arsenal badge on the seats in the East Stand, such was the mass exodus from this European bore draw.
When asked about claims that Francis Coquelin responded badly to boos from fans by the tunnel, as the sides trooped off, Wenger merely said: “I didn’t see that. I went in straightaway.”
ARSENAL: Macey; Debuchy, Elneny, Holding; Nelson, Maitland-Niles; Coquelin, Willock (Nketiah 68) ; Walcott (C), Wilshere; Giroud
Subs not used: Cech, Osei-Tutu, Akpom, Dasilva, McGuane, Sheaf
RED STAR BELGRADE: Borjan; Stojkovic, Le Tallec, Savic, Gobeljic; Krstcic, Donald (C); Srnic (Racic 86), Kanga (Kanga 70), Radonjic (Pesic 89); Boakye
Subs not used: Supic, Frimpong, Adzic, Babic