Arsenal draw a blank to progress to next stage of Europa League
Arsene Wenger’s much-changed side unable to break down Red Star Belgrade
Arsenal’s Joe Willock and Red Star Belgrade’s Mitchell Donald battle for the ball. Photograph:: John Walton/PA Wire
Arsenal 0 Red Star Belgrade 0
Arsenal booked their place in the knockout stages of the Europa League despite a drab goalless draw at home to Red Star Belgrade. With Arsene Wenger continuing his policy of completely rotating his Premier League side for this competition, the Gunners were toothless as the visitors wasted the best chances of a forgettable contest at the Emirates Stadium.
Jack Wilshere, who failed to prove a point to England manager Gareth Southgate following his omission from the latest international squad, came closest to winning it for the hosts only to see a second-half effort superbly cleared off the line by Damien Le Tallec. Wenger’s changed outfit, featuring the likes of Wilshere, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, had won their three Group H games leading into this tie.
A point against the Serbia SuperLiga side proved to be enough to assure them of a place in next month’s draw as Cologne beat BATE Borisov in the group’s other game.
While neighbours Tottenham and rivals Manchester City were beating some of Europe’s elite in the Champions League just 24 hours earlier, this had none of the glamour, attraction or skill of those noteworthy wins. But, as Everton lost at Lyon to be knocked out of the competition, this was enough to secure safe passage for Arsene Wenger’s side into the round of 32 where it remains to be seen if his big-name players will be utilised.
As expected, Arsenal started on the front foot and Milan Borjan was forced into action to prevent Olivier Giroud putting the hosts ahead as he steered Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ cross towards goal.
Like their league win here over Swansea on Saturday, Arsenal were on top but failing to create any chances of note, Giroud again thwarted by Borjan before Matt Macey saved well from Slavoljub Srnic at the other end. Macey, making just his second appearance for Arsenal, produced an even better save moments later to turn Vujadin Savic’s header onto the crossbar as the visitors threatened to take a surprise lead.
They should have been in front moments before the break as Richmond Boakye broke clear but could only shoot wide of Macey’s goal.
The second half was equally as tedious as the first, with Arsenal not coming close to an opening goal until the 65th minute as Wilshere took control of the ball from Maitland-Niles and cutely chipped Borjan only for Le Tallec to stretch out a long leg and clear. Wenger turned to Eddie Nketiah, the 18-year-old who struck twice off the bench on his home debut to down Norwich in the Carabao Cup a week ago, to attempt to win the game.
Theo Walcott headed wide before fluffing his lines when played in by Mohamed Elneny, with reported Chelsea target Boakye missing another glorious chance to win it for Red Star.
The final whistle was greeted by some jeers – and plenty of relief – by the home fans as the Red Star bench celebrated a point which keeps alive their own hopes of progressing in the competition.