Arsenal: Three things we learned from their victory over Red Star Belgrade

The Gunners did enough to take all three points on Thursday night. But were they simply papering over the cracks in Belgrade?

Arsenal travelled to Belgrade on Thursday night in a bid to resurrect their season, hoping for a comfortable win against Red Star. With their weekend fixture against Everton at Goodison Park looming, Arsene Wenger trusted youth at the Rajko Mitić Stadium, resting the ailing Alexis Sánchez and Aaron Ramsey. 

On the night, Arsenal managed to drag themselves to a 1-0 win in which the only moment of magic was the eventual winner: an acrobatic lob from super sub Olivier Giroud. Even with a much-changed lineup, however, some of Arsenal’s all-too-familiar concerns presented themselves. 

Chris Weir asks whether or not this is an Arsenal team rejuvenated? Or are they simply papering over the cracks?

  1. 1 The Elneny Experiment has failed

    Mohamed Elneny is a player whose range of passing and stamina brings quality to the Arsenal midfield.  He is not, and never will be, a centre back. This isn't the first time that the midfielder has been played as a defender: Arsene Wenger experimented with him as a centre back in the Emirates Cup in pre-season.

    It seems an attractive move on paper. Wenger has always maintained that a good midfielder can handle the drop into defence and the Egyptian is certainly that: rarely losing possession and with the distribution to help build attacks patiently from the back.

    In a side that leaves itself so open defensively, however, the switch doesn’t really work. Better teams than Red Star would have exploited the yawning chasms opening between Arsenal’s defensive lines on Thursday night. A last-ditch Coquelin lunge does not a good defence make.  

  2. 2 Wilshere is no Gascoigne – but why should he be?

    You have to feel for Jack Wilshere. The other players in Arsenal’s squad can be just that – players. Meanwhile, he must accept being his country’s greatest hope whilst also being simulaneously labelled as its latest failure. Take, for example, Stewart Robson’s comment that Wilshere was England’s most skilled midfielder “since Gascoigne”. It’s a comparison that does both players a disservice.  

    If he stays fit, Wilshere could yet develop into a top Premier League midfielder. His eye for incision and acceleration over ten yards were evident in the build-up to Olivier Giroud’s decisive finish. But those commentators who proclaim his quality should temper their praise with a pinch of realism – at least until he can manage to keep his place in the side.

  3. 3 Theo Walcott is stealing a living

    When Sven Goran Eriksson announced his England squad for the 2006 World Cup, the inclusion of a slightly-built 16-year-old caught the attention of the nation. Theo Walcott, Sven argued, was the same age as Roberto Baggio when he brought him into the Fiorentina squad – nobody criticised him then.  

    When Roberto Baggio was 27, he narrowly missed out on the 1994 World Cup, the aegis of an Italian national side that boasted luminaries such as Paolo Maldini and Roberto Donadoni. At 27, Theo Walcott has a new haircut.

    If that seems harsh, then it probably is. But there’s something arrogant about Walcott’s steadfast refusal to develop as a footballer. Against Red Star on Thursday night, he passed up numerous chances to score or set up a teammate when put through on the right-hand side. For a player who has now spent a decade at elite level, his productivity is completely underwhelming. 

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Chris Weir


Chris is a Senior Writer for These Football Times and has appeared on The Guardian and TalkSPORT.