Giroud hits wonder winner to silence doubters
Red Star 0 Arsenal 1
How about this for a test of Arsenal's 'cojones'?
Less than a week after receiving the most resounding criticism of their character, Arsenal stepped into the furnace of one of Europe's most intimidating venues and provided the strongest possible response to a genuine test of their mettle.
Wenger's collection of kids and first-team misfits had something to prove last night; they had to dig deep, to battle.
For 85 minutes, they did just that. And then Olivier Giroud, a man increasingly prone to the spectacular, dipped into his bag of tricks and produced the most stunning of winners.
There can hardly have been a more satisfying way to claim all three points, and this will surely taste sweeter than any comfortable, nondescript three-goal victory.
The fervent celebrations of Giroud's strike certainly suggested so - as did the smile on Wenger's face afterwards.
"The spirit we showed was remarkable," said Wenger, "fighting together in a game that was very physical."
The fallout over Troy Deeney's lacerating criticism of Arsenal following the 2-1 defeat at Watford last Saturday will no doubt continue, but here was a crucial step forward for the club, against a Red Star Belgrade side who gave as good as they got for large spells of a fraught, heated clash.
Arsenal are now in complete control of their Europa League group, with two of their next three matches to be played at home.
And what a valuable experience this would have been for youngsters Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and the brilliant Reiss Nelson, who shone at right wing-back.
"They showed a lot of character," Wenger said. "It's not easy to express that. To play in such a heated atmosphere shows how much resistance to stress they have, which is an important quality at this level."
There will also be encouragement from the performances of Mathieu Debuchy, making his first appearance since November 2016, and Jack Wilshere, who continues to impress whenever he plays, even if he is yet to feature in the league this season. "He will get a chance in the Premier League," Wenger said of Wilshere. "Don't worry about that. Games of that intensity will help him a lot."
Red Star's cause was irreparably damaged by the dismissal of Milan Rodic, who shown a second yellow card with 10 minutes remaining for a seemingly innocuous challenge.
Wilshere inevitably strode into the open space, working the ball to Walcott who flicked on to Giroud with just five minutes remaining. The Frenchman, facing away from goal, spun and volleyed a wonderful finish into the top corner. © Daily Telegraph, London.