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Preview: Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal

Sports Mole looks ahead to Thursday's Europa League Group H match between Red Star Belgrade and Arsenal in Serbia.

A seamless Europa League campaign could continue for Arsenal on Thursday evening when they take on Red Star Belgrade in the Serbian capital at Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Arsene Wenger's men are searching for their third straight victory in Group H, which would give the Premier League club a five-point advantage over the rest of the pack.

Red Star Belgrade

A general shot of the Europa League trophy on June 24, 2013© Getty Images

Being the closest challengers to the Gunners in the group, Vladan Milojevic's side will feel that they can tighten the gap, particularly as the team will have home comforts to draw upon.

Arsenal may be widely regarded as favourites heading into the encounter, but Red Star have proven this season that they are not easy to penetrate having conceded just three goals in 14 matches across the Serbian SuperLiga and in European competition.

Serbia's top division may have a lower level of quality than that in England's elite league, but Red Star are in positive form this season having dropped points just twice in 12 outings.

Milojevic's team started the season strongly by going on a five-game winning run until they were halted in a goalless draw with Partizan, but they soon bounced back by recording four straight victories.

Red Star head into the meeting with Arsenal on the back of a 4-0 thumping over Macva Sabac, but prior to that they suffered their first real blip when they were beaten 1-0 by Napredak.

With regards to the club's Europa campaign, the club had to get through eight matches before making it into the group phase of the competition, and they are yet to lose.

In the team's opener against BATE Borisov, Red Star recorded a 1-1 draw and then followed that up with a 1-0 victory over FC Koln.

Nemanja Radonijc and Richmond Boakye, who has recently been linked with a move to Chelsea, are the only scorers so far in the club's Europa group phase.

The club, who finished second in the Serbian league last season, are already doing better than their last time at this stage, as they lost all four matches in the 2007-08 campaign.

Recent Europa League form: DW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWLW


Arsene Wenger watches on during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Bournemouth on September 9, 2017© SilverHub

There is no denying that the Gunners would prefer to be battling it out in the Champions League, so some fans could be forgiven a lack of enthusiasm for the second-tier competition.

While the Europa League may not be the North London outfit's priority this season, they have shown so far the capabilities of potentially going far.

Wenger has been able to afford to switch his team up and allow some of his younger players to showcase their talent, while also giving some of the fringe members an opportunity to get minutes under their belts.

So far, all is running smoothly in Europe for Arsenal given that they began their group campaign with a 3-1 win over Koln and later sealed a 4-2 triumph against Borisov.

The only downside to the results is that the team conceded goals in both, and the defensive issue reared its ugly head in the Premier League at the weekend when the Gunners were stunned by Watford.

An unlikely scorer came in the form of Per Mertesacker in the 39th minute, but the Hornets bounced back with the help of a penalty, which was converted by Troy Deeney in the 72nd minute.

Things went from bad to worse when ex-Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley snatched the winner in stoppage time, which resulted in Arsenal dropping nine points off the pace of leaders Manchester City.

The current situation is not all doom and gloom, though, as Wenger has overseen just one defeat in the team's last six matches in all competitions, and in that time 10 goals have been scored.

Plus, the London club have a good record to draw upon - they have not lost over 90 minutes in seven UEFA Cup or Europa League matches since 2000.

Recent Europa League form: WW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWWL

Team News

A shaven-headed Jack Wilshere in action during the EFL Cup game between Arsenal and Doncaster Rovers on September 20, 2017© Offside

With Arsenal already in a relatively comfortable position in the group, Wenger can afford to shake up his team, particularly with Sunday's league game against Everton coming up.

Alexis Sanchez was not included in the squad against Watford due to his lengthy travelling while on international duty with Chile, but it is unlikely that he will start in Serbia on Thursday evening.

The same could be said for Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, who have brushed off their injury problems but are unlikely to be risked ahead of this weekend's action.

Jack Wilshere has been an outcast with regards to domestic action, but the midfielder has played in both Europa fixtures and could do so again this week.

The England international could be joined by Olivier Giroud, who has been restricted to just eight cameo appearances in the league, while youngsters Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles may also feature.

As for the hosts, Boakye and Radonjic are expected to start following their recent goalscoring displays, but Guelor Kanga's thigh injury is likely to keep him out of midfield contention.

Red Star Belgrade possible starting lineup:
Borjan; Stojkovic, Le Tallec, Babic, Gobeljic; Donald, Krsticic; Srnic, Pesic, Radonjic; Boakye

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Nelson; Wilshere, Walcott; Giroud

Head To Head

The last time that these two clubs met was in the 1978-79 season in the third round of the UEFA Cup, and it was Red Star who progressed into the next phase of the competition.

The Serbian side - coached by Branko Stankovic at the time - earned a 1-0 triumph at home in the first round and then restricted Terry Neill's Gunners at Highbury to a 1-1 draw.

Red Star have a mixed record when it comes to taking on English opposition, having won six, drawn five and lost five, while Arsenal's only other clashes against a Serbian club was Partizan in the group stage of the 2010-11 Champions League. The Gunners won both games 3-1.

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We say: Red Star Belgrade 1-2 Arsenal

Wenger's team will feel wounded by last weekend's defeat to Watford, but the hangover should not be too heavy as the team expected to line up in Belgrade will be full of changes. These matches give some of the fringe players an opportunity to prove their worth to the manager, and even though Red Star can be stubborn in defence, the Gunners should have enough to claim their third Europa win on the bounce.

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Who will win Thursday's Europa League match between Red Star Belgrade and Arsenal?

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Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates his team's 1-0 win in the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015
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