Mention Red Star Belgrade and mental images of communist-era Yugoslavia flood the mind. Of a technically gifted XI who were under-achievers on the international stage. The mass of footballing contradictions came with the dullest Champions Cup final ever in 1991; the match which gave birth to the rat-infested mess of European competition we now have.
Of drab concrete stadiums; the Marakana, which to this day I don’t know the official name of. Probably the 5th of July Stadium or something commemorating an uprising; communist authorities were big on that.
And of Kevin Keegan getting seven bells of crap kicked out of him at Belgrade airport.
Red Star now? I shrug my shoulders. Not for me hours poring over dvds marked ‘Red Star’. Arsène did all that while being careful not to mix up the discs from the covers with a red star on the corner.
Red Star Belgrade. Or Crvena Zvezda as they were known for years until their title before becoming anglicized once more. I’m not sure why beyond the inherent laziness of the English media. Kiev remains Kyiv; why has Crvena Zvezda reverted to type.
And here we are. A win all but confirms us in the next round but finishing top of the group gives us seeded status in the next round. That’s the object of the exercise so we cannot afford a slip-up this evening. It’s Arsenal, Europe and a decent start to a group phase: cock-up ahoy!
Such cynicism in one so young. Arsène mentioned the support of the team always has a positive impact.” It took me a while to realise he was talking about the home supporters, in which case I fully agree with his assertion that it won’t have a negative impact: the players are used to having us on their backs.
You May See The Meaning Of Within
Wenger dropped a Debuchy-sized bombshell into the equation. The former French international is a “possibility” to start and hasn’t previously because “every time he is close to coming back he gets injured again.”
It led to the usual faux outrage that we Arsenal fans do so well. If there’s any derision to heap on a player or an electronic vote to win, we’re your men and women. Is including Debuchy that much of an issue? It’s hard to make a case that it isn’t. His last few team outings stick in the mind for the incoherent positional play. Is tonight’s appearance going to be on the right side of a back three? Will that make things any better?
Maybe if the suggestion Petr Cech is likely to start behind a very makeshift defence proves correct. I’m assuming of course, that one of Monreal or Kolasinac won’t play. In front of a hostile crowd tonight, I’d be surprised if Wenger went with two inexperienced wing-backs although Debuchy on the right and Bellerin on the left can’t be ruled out.
While we might argue that Saturday’s performance demands a strong XI but it isn’t going to happen. Arsène isn’t putting all his hopes into a Europa League shaped basket; we can still reach the Promised Land via the top four. Yes, that old chestnut; I’m not going there. And nor, I think, are Arsenal.
Both Wenger and Jack Wilshere took exception to Troy Deeney’s assessment of the squad. To paraphrase the pair, we’ve got the cojones. Wilshere went one step further declaring, “I look around this team and you can’t question our character.”
Yes, Jack; yes, we can. Did you not see the shambles at Vicarage Road? A strong team doesn’t lose in such a flimsy manner.
Lay Down all Thoughts, Surrender to the Void
Whatever the circumstance, Arsenal players always proclaim the mental strength of the squad. Usually after it has gone inexplicably missing. While I have no doubt that the players believe they are strong, we know there’s a flaky performance or two screaming to get out and succeeding in doing so with little provocation.
Was Saturday getting it out of our system? I hope so but in the middle of a run of three away games, it’s hard to genuinely believe that. Maybe the reserves will prove us wrong or make a case for inclusion on Sunday, at the very least. I’d expect the line-up to be:
Ospina/Cech; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Holding; Mailtand-Niles, Wilshere, Elneny, Bellerin; Walcott, Giroud, Özil
It is what it is but not conceding first will probably be as vital as anything this evening. And then holding onto that advantage. We can do that, as we saw in the last Europa League game. Then again, we saw what happened at Watford. Who knows how this one is going to end.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.
A new post at Dad’s Jukebox this morning with a quick catch-up of the reissues news and a playlist to go with.