Time for Some Red Star Freshness in Belgrade
The thing I love about football is that you’re only as good as your next game. When the Gunners went on that seven game winning streak that panned across three different competitions, everything seemed right in the world of Arsenal and we were hoping to capitalize on the failings of Liverpool and Chelsea to stake a claim for a top four berth, but we all know how that worked out in Vicarage Road last Saturday.
Watford beat the Gunners, fingers were pointed at the penalty and what have you, and the Arsenal universe went into doom and gloom mode. “Mesut Ozil is lazy!” (wow! like we didn’t know before), “Granit Xhaka picked his nose and didn’t close down Tom Cleverley”. “Alexandre Lacazette doesn’t play the entire 90 minutes”. Loads and loads of analysis, with expert fans giving their Football Manager opinions, like they know better than a man that has been in real football management since the 1980’s. Not like I’m discrediting those fans that feel they can manage the club better than Wenger, just support your club in the good times and of course, bad times, because they will always be there.
After witnessing the Champions League fixtures on Tuesday and Wednesday, I am having some excitement on tonight’s game against Red Star Belgrade. Face it, my club has struggled for quite some time in the Champions League, finishing in second place only to face a Barcelona or Bayern Munich and face elimination in the Round of 16. Even when we managed to win our group last season, Bayern still managed to finish in second place, just to add more humiliation to us. 15-3 in the last three games against the Bavarians hurts a lot.
So here we are, in the Europa League, playing against farmers and randomites from countries I only see on atlases or hear in the news for one thing or the other. Did I tell you that my spelling and pronunciation has been improved since we started playing in the Europa League? C’mon we are going to the Crvena Zvezda Stadium in Belgrade. Can you pronounce the ‘Z’ bit without twisting your tongue? That’s the freshness I’m talking about. A new adventure I’ve not experienced as an Arsenal fan. Yes, I was a fan when we lost to Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, but since Arsene Wenger took over some umpteen years ago, we have never played in Europe’s second tier competition till this season.
This tournament also offers us the chance to see some youngsters and fringe players that are desperate to impress and stake a claim for a first team berth. By default, David Ospina is our Cup keeper, so his position is usually uncontested bar injuries or terrible loss of form. Forgotten man, Matt Debuchy will be in contention to play tonight, as Hector Bellerin could do with a breather. I’m pretty sure his psyche is all fucked up, missing a goalscoring chance on one end and conceding the penalty that led to Watford’s equalizer on the other end. The impressive Rob Holding will have another chance to err, impress. There’s a rusty captain, Per Mertesacker, that’s in need of game time and the list continues.
With Debuchy’s presence in right back, maybe Reiss Nelson can deputize as a right winger but with Wenger probably willing to give some game time to Theo Walcott (yeah, he still exists), Debuchy might be drafted to center back, to accommodate Walcott and Nelson on that right flank. Francis Coquelin is back from his long term injury layoff and will probably feature in central midfield alongside Mohamed Elneny. We could see Ainsley Maitland-Niles play in that unfamiliar left wing back role. Jack Wilshere is also itching for a chance to impress as well. Then there’s the Handsome Bearded Frenchie, Olivier Giroud, that would certainly be favored ahead of his fellow Frenchman, Lacazette, in these sort of games.
I don’t know much of our hosts, but they are sitting pretty at the top of the Serbian Super Liga, with 31 points from 12 games. They enjoyed an emphatic 4-0 victory against Macva Sabac over the weekend, so they come into the game in good form. The Gunners need to be mindful of their dangerous forward, Alesandr Pesic, who bagged his sixth goal of the season in the weekend fixture.
Red Star Belgrade Form
- Last Five Games: W W L W W
- Last Result: Red Star Belgrade 4-0 Macva Sabac
- Leading Goalscorer: Alesandr Pesic (6)
- Last Five Games: W W W W L
- Last Result: Watford 2-1 Arsenal
- Leading Goalscorer: Alexandre Lacazette (4)
The potential starting XI would look like this
Bar Mertesacker, this squad is devoid of those players that had a rough night in Watford. It also offers Wenger the opportunity to access some playing positions in the team, ahead of the all-important clash against fellow strugglers, Everton, this weekend.
Till then, let’s enjoy some red star freshness in Belgrade.
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