Five Thoughts: Red Star Belgrade 0-1 Arsenal

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Welp, that sure was 96:30 (counting injury time) of absolute dross, brightened by one moment of magic from someone who sure seems to keep producing them for a guy who, if you believe the Twitter/AFTV troglodytes, isn't any good at this game.

Funny how they seem to keep getting it so wrong. Also, Petr Cech was fucking great, too. Dipshits.

1. The second half opened up some and it became semi-watchable, but man alive, that first half was utter rubbish. Cech made a great save on one of their guys towards the end of the half, Milan Borjan made a better one earlier on to keep out Theo Walcott. That was honestly about it for any kind of excitement. The thing was, Theo really should have scored. Cech's save was more about his positioning and his reflexes, whereas Borjan just kind of made himself as big as possible and hoped Walcott hit him. The shot was so lacking in conviction, too.

I don't know if we're ever going to figure this guy out. All you remember is chances like this, or entire games spent on the periphery doing his Casper the Friendly Winger Ghost impersonation, and then the end of the season comes and he's got like 15 goals and 7 assists. Like, from where? Is this some kind of rip in the space-time continuum? It turned out not to matter today, but, well, look on the bright side. Theo Walcott is basically the talent ceiling for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, best I can figure. You can score against Slovenian wheat farmers all you like, bucko, it still doesn't make you worth 40 pee, let alone million quid.

Yeah, there's going to be petty-ass cheap shots at the guy all season. Get used to it, kids. It's not as hilarious as Alex Hleb-to-Barcelona, but it's up there.

2. On the other hand, Jack Wilshere looked as good as he's done in a million years. He was everywhere, pressing like a madman (and yelling at his mates to do likewise), picking out top-notch passes, and generally making a nuisance of himself to anyone in a red-and-white shirt (that's....weird to type, but we were in that awful raspberry-cola clobber today, so there you go). He clearly understands the opportunity that these Europa League games present to a guy in his position, and bless his heart, he's going for it balls to the wall.

Here's the thing - Aaron Ramsey's been hurt all season, Granit Xhaka has been hot and cold, Mohamed Elneny is a squad player, Francis Coquelin is fine in certain situations but not for 38 games, and I don't believe at this point that Santi Cazorla is ever coming back. Central midfield is right there waiting for him, if he keeps playing like this and can stay fit with any sort of consistency.

We all ought to hope that it happens, too. The balance of the team is better with a fit Wilshere in it, as he is one of the few who always, ALWAYS, wants to go forward and make something happen. Many of the rest of this lot default to slow and sideways. The other thing is, we haven't had a situation yet (I don't believe) where Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez and Wilshere were all playing. That's our best team, by miles, and it's absolutely a case where I believe the sum would be far greater than the parts. People will talk all kinds of nonsense about some of them, especially Ozil, but put them all together and let's see what they do. You gonna tell me that our team is any worse off than Chelsea's lot if they're all out there? Go ahead, fight me.

3. Sure, David Ospina was "injured." Also, I'm the Tsar of all the Russias. Even when things have gone wrong for him in a Gunners shirt, he's always been able to hang his hat on his international form. Colombia are no mugs, and he's their undisputed # 1. On the other hand, this last round of qualifiers? Woof. If we beat this same lot on Match Day 4, we'll be already qualified and then we can throw him in there and see if his case of the yips has left him yet.

Conversely, Mathieu Debuchy made his first start for us since approximately the Later Han Dynasty, and he looked all right. A few shaky moments here and there, but given how hard it is to just pop back into a team after that long out, and given the makeshift nature of his partners (Elneny in central defense? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?), you have to say the lad done good.

Still, I'm not too sure how much I'm in love with this idea of midfielders playing the fullback positions. Ainsley Maitland-Niles looks like a lost soul out there on the left, which I'm not sure is even his dominant foot. Reiss Nelson was OK as well, but, I this the best way to develop these kids? Wouldn't it make more sense to have them go out on loan somewhere, play every week in their normal positions, and get some journeyman guys to play these Europa games? I know, I know, I've managed zero games, etc and so on. Just a thought. Either way, the kids handled one of the tougher away days in all of Europe with aplomb, so maybe I oughta just shut my word-hole.

4. By now, you've all seen Giroud's ridiculously amazing bicycle kick goal. Poor old Borjan just watched it go like he was watching his wife go out the door with the kids, the dog and the good set of china. Wilshere started the move, and to be 100% fair to the man, Walcott kept it going by getting stuck in amongst two or three of their big lads in the back to pop it back into play for Ollie to do his thing. I could watch a replay of that all day.

You do wonder, though, if the unbelievably soft second yellow their guy got had anything to do with that little bit of space opening up, though. My god, I'd be incandescent if one of ours walked for that. If I remember correctly the guy's first yellow was legit, but the second was a situation where he went up for a header with Coquelin, and his arm got away from him some. The referee did have an outstanding view of it so maybe it was the same kind of sneaky-on-purpose deal that I insist Bellerin's was against Watford. If so, fair play to the ref. In his shoes though, I might have pulled him aside for the final "Mate, you know you're on a yellow, yes? You so much as breathe on anyone again and you're off" conversation.

I did say in the Watford report that we haven't gotten any luck at all this season, so nice to see my conjuring spell worked. You're welcome, one and all.

5. So, onwards and upwards in the competition, as we're monstering a group that I thought might have a few tricky games in it. Considering it's been done with fringe players and fetuses, you have to file this way way way into the "job done" folder so far. There are big(gish) teams that are stepping all over their dicks so far, against far worse clubs than this. What Athletic Bilbao are doing should have seen their manager sacked already. Hertha Berlin lost to something called Zorya today. AC Milan drew 0-0 at home with AEK Athens. Everton are a dumpster fire in progress. Copenhagen and Villareal are punching below their historical weight.

We're doing more than OK, in other words.

It will be an interesting transition as we get to the knockout stages, and we a) start seeing better teams and b) probably start seeing more first-teamers in the starting XI. But, will they stutter as they have so often in the Premier League already? It's an interesting conundrum. I don't know if I'd want to start Nelson or Maitland-Niles or Joe Willock against someone like, say, Zenit St. Petersburg, or one of the clubs that drop in from the Champions League. On the other hand, maybe they've earned it at this point?

A bridge to burn when we get to it, I suppose. For now, nothing but positives out of this one. Moaners will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.