With maximum points from their opening three matches, Arsenal knows that only a point will see them through to the next round but a win will cement their finish at the top of the group.
Last time out, Arsenal battled to a pulsating 1-0 win over the Serbian outfit with five minutes of regulation time left. Olivier Giroud scored the only goal that evening with yet another “world class” goal.
Thoughts ahead of the game
With an equally important game in mind (Manchester City away), Arsene Wenger will yet again use this fixture to blood youngsters, as well as starting regulars. No doubt would the Serbian SuperLiga runners-up come out fighting.
Arsenal have been at their best in this tournament, but with past experience, we know that they’ll inevitably fall at the second stage, should they make it. However, this is a different pool of custard, so we’ll never know what to expect.
Both sides will be coming into this encounter in high spirits with respective wins over Swansea City (2-1), and Zemun (1-0).
I expect Vladan Milojevic’s side to test the North London outfit, just as they did in Belgrade two weeks ago.
It would be rather “cocky” of me to say I expect Arsenal to win, wins aren’t a given and Arsenal were fairly tested before eventually breaking the deadlock late on. So expect to see much of the same!
Wenger stated that Sead Kolasinac is “much better”, and will have a test at the end of the week. Wenger hasn’t ruled out the Bosnian not taking part in the weekends “crunch” fixture against Manchester City. Having said that, he will miss out on Thursday’s match. David Ospina may be available to train on Monday, and Calum Chambers is back, but not fit enough to play. As for Danny Welbeck, and Shkodran Mustafi, they’ll be back after the international break.
Arsene Wenger was asked whether he’d play Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez, to which he replied: “No because I have another trio in Theo, Jack, and Giroud. They all deserve competition”. I like that from him. Whilst he has Manchester City in mind, he’s also focused on the task in-hand.
On Rob Holding, Wenger has this to say: “Rob, I rate highly. I have shown that in very big games. He is ahead of what is a normal central defender at his age. At the top level, there are not many who play before 24. He had a little bit of a lack of confidence at the start of the season, but I think he has recovered now”.
It’s refreshing to see that a manager has that sort of confidence in a young English player. I like that Wenger rates him highly. Knowing of past young players who have played some part with Arsenal. I know Holding will keep his feet firmly on the ground.
Wenger spoke about facing Red Star Belgrade: “If we win, we qualify at the top of the group – for me, that is important. It’s a big game. We have won three games, and we want number four now”.
I’m intrigued by that. It’s great that he’s shown real eagerness to be in this tournament. Honestly, when Arsenal finished fifth last season, I thought Arsenal would have a mantra of “forget the Europa League, let’s concentrate on the Premier League”, but it hasn’t been that way and that’s great.
Rob Holding has also been speaking and was asked about the back three.
“I’ve got Mertesacker, and Koscielny to help me adapt, so its good”.
It’s good for a young player like him to know that he has older players to learn from. It depicts how willing he is.
Wenger was also asked about the attitude of the squad.
“I feel that there is a good understanding in the squad. We have not bought seven, or eight players – they know each other well. There is respect within the squad, that’s an important aspect”.
Victoria Concordia Crescit – Victory Through Harmony.
There was also a question about whether he has to manager Jack Wilshere carefully:
“No, I manage him at the moment like any other player”.
The message here is that he’s not going give exceptions to other players (unless it’s precautionary).
The last question asked about playing with two XIs:
“I want to stick to that at the moment”.
It’s best to stick to what works. If something doesn’t need changing, why fix it? So goes the wise saying: “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”.
To close, I expect Arsenal to try their utmost hardest, and I also expect the Serbian SuperLiga leaders to make life difficult, just as they did two weeks ago.