UEL: Arsenal progress without Iwobi with Belgrade stalemate

Europa League By: Ambrose Udeme | 02/11/2017

Super Eagles star Alex Iwobi failed to make Thursday's matchday squad as Arsenal secured qualification to the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League despite being held to a 0-0 draw by Red Star Belgrade at the Emirates Stadium.

While the result proved just enough to ensure the home side will play in next round of the competition, the Serbian club players were seen leaving the field satisfied. The only regret one would sense is that they could have won against the pale Arsenal.

Mathieu Debuchy who has been out of favour at Arsenal and Mohamed Elneny started in hear of the Gunners' defence. Both players were partnered in a three-man defence formation by Rob Holding.

Elsewhere, Francis Coquelin and Joe Willock were paired in the central midfield while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and youngster Reiss Nelson got the left and right wing-back roles respectively.

Up front, Olivier Giroud led the line and was supported by Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

Jack Wilshere came closest to scoring, when he saw an effort well cleared off the line in the second half. But Red Star proved obdurate opponents, and more than played their part in a result which suits both sides, although leaves Arsenal a point short of confirming top spot in the group.

During the opening exchanges, most of the energy and enthusiasm inside Emirates Stadium was being generated by the visiting Red Star fans, rather than the players on the pitch. It took 10 minutes for the home side to fashion a decent chance.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles did well on the left wing, broke into the box before delivering a low cross to Olivier Giroud at the near post, but Milan Borjan did well to parry the Frenchman's first-time shot.

In truth the game never really ignited. On the half hour Francis Coquelin injected some urgency when he intercepted the ball in midfield and sprung a counter-attack, working his way all the way into the area. But he dwelt on possession too long, rather than releasing Wilshere, and the opportunity was lost.

Both teams then had decent chances in the space of a minute. First Joe Willock won the ball before teeing up Giroud, but Borjan was quickly and bravely off his line to snuff out the chance.

At the other end Matt Macey, making his first European appearance, made two full-stretch saves. The second in particular, from Vujadin Savic, was an excellent stop, getting a fingertip to a close-range header to divert the ball onto the crossbar. As the half drew to a close, Richmond Boakye had a golden opportunity to give the visitors the lead. He burst through one on one with Macey, but got his angles all wrong, flashing his shot wide.

The Gunners began to take the game to the Serbians more in the second half. Giroud had a couple of sighters before Reiss Nelson burst into the box and was only stopped by a well-timed challenge. Wilshere came within inches of breaking the deadlock as the game started to open up. He took the ball off the toes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles inside the area, shot past the keeper, but Damien Le Tallec flew in to clear the shot off the line.

Much to the approval of the Emirates crowd, Eddie Nketiah - two-goal hero in the Carabao Cup angainst Norwich City - was introduced for the last 20 minutes or so, and although he showed some nice touches, he was well-shackled by the experienced Serbian defence.

Late on Theo Walcott headed wide, and then failed to connect with a volley after Mohamed Elneny headed the ball into his path. Boakye went close for the visitors but blazed wide as the Belgrade continued to be a threat on the counter. They seemed happy to settle for a point and defended well in the closing minutes to earn the draw.