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Arsenal’s qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League should come as no surprise. As one of the highest seeded teams, and one with a long track record of Champions League participation, any other result would have been a real shock.
Yet at the end of the 0-0 draw with Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night, there were a smattering of boos from what was, at that stage, a half-empty Emirates.
Let’s be clear: It wasn’t a great Arsenal performance. The visitors probably had better chances to score a goal, and it wasn’t much to look at in terms of entertainment, but ultimately this strange construct of a team got the job done.
The two matches against the Serbian league leaders have been stupefying affairs, low on quality on both sides. Arsenal’s senior players, in particular, consistently failed to impose themselves. It took 10 seconds of brilliance between Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and then Olivier Giroud to break the deadlock in Belgrade, but they were unable to replicate that in the home match.
Wilshere had a goal-bound effort cleared off the line, but both Walcott and Giroud really struggled to make any kind of impact. Some of that is due to the fact that three-quarters of the midfield are fledgling professionals — two of whom are playing out of position — neither of them are going to give manager Arsene Wenger any trouble when it comes to picking their side for the trip to Manchester City this weekend.
And yet, Arsenal have advanced, and supporters have to ask what they would rather see. A team that is getting results and giving young prospects valuable experience while but struggling for cohesion and fluency, or one with more established stars but which would possibly have a negative impact on the one Wenger fields in the Premier League.