Olivier Giroud scored a great late goal to snatch all three points against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night.
In a clash of few clear chances, we were indebted to Petr Cech for some fine saves, while Theo Walcott and Reiss Nelson came closest to scoring for us early on before Giroud's winner.
The match had got off to a cagey start, with both sides feeling each other out in the opening exchanges in front of the vociferous home fans who created a wall of noise inside this old stadium.
The Red Star fans roared their approval any time their side ventured forward, but in truth the hosts were kept quiet during this period by a back three containing Mathieu Debuchy, in for his first start since November 2016.
In fact, we were first to threaten when, with 15 minutes on the clock, Jack Wilshere floated in a free kick that caused panic in the area, with the ball eventually breaking to Theo Walcott eight yards out. It was on his weaker foot, and the England forward scuffed his shot, allowing Milan Borjan to make the save.
But back came the Serbs, and they soon had Petr Cech scrambling with a shot that screwed wide of the far post. It was an effort that only encouraged the home fans, who raised the decibels inside the ground even further.
The Arsenal goalkeeper then had to scramble to his right as Richmond Boakye sent a header from a corner against the crossbar, with Debuchy heading the loose ball out.
Cech was called into action again just after the half-hour mark when Slavoljub Srnic delivered a teasing ball from the right that reached Nemanja Radonjic at the far post. The Red Star forward took a touch, before hitting a fierce half volley that Cech did brilliantly to push away, with Reiss Nelson and Mohamed Elneny blocking the follow-up shot.
Red Star continued to threaten after half-time, with Elneny making a fine sliding tackle to deny Boakye after the striker had been put through on goal.
Sixty seconds later, it was our turn to pour forward with Joe Willock created space in the area and teeing up Walcott, whose cross-cum-shot flew across the six-yard box and hit Giroud, the ball bouncing into the arms of Borjan.
Reiss Nelson was next to have a go as Wilshere’s cross from the left reached him at the back post, but his powerful drive was palmed away by the Red Star goalkeeper.
The game was starting to open up now, and it was the hosts who came forward next with Nenad Krsticic testing Cech with a firm header that the Arsenal goalkeeper was equal to.
As we entered the final 15 minutes, it became increasingly likely that whoever scored first would win this finely-poised clash – but both defences were holding firm.
However, with just five minutes remaining, Walcott, Wilshere and Giroud linked up brilliantly in the Red Star penalty area, culminating in a fantastic overhead finish from the Frenchman to break the deadlock at the death.
AS IT HAPPENED
See how the game unfolded through our play-by-play coverage of the match
Mohamed Elneny played in an unfamiliar position on Thursday evening, as Arsene Wenger thrust him into the heart of our three-man defence.
The Egypt international performed well, and here are some of his key moments:
8 – Elneny steps forward from the back and spots Theo Walcott in space to the right of the area, but his raking pass just evades the England international
16 – Red Star threaten as Donald bundles his way past Wilshere and Willock to the edge of the area, but as he shapes to shoot Elneny steps up and pokes the ball away
32 – Cech saves brilliantly from Radonjic, with a combination of Nelson and Elneny blocking the follow-up effort and the Egyptian eventually dribbling the ball away to safety
47 – Elneny makes a superb sliding challenge to nick the ball off Boakye’s foot as he shapes to shoot after being played in on goal
54 – The Egypt international plays a poor backpass that Radonjic races on to, but his shot is saved by Cech
WHAT IT MEANS
We travel to Everton on Sunday, needing a positive result after last weekend’s disappointment against Watford at Vicarage Road.
We have won 11 Premier League games at Goodison Park - only at West Ham and Aston Villa (12 each) have we a better away record – but the Toffees beat us there last time out, 2-1, as Ashley Williams headed in a late winner.
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