By The Associated Press
Olivier Giroud scored late in the second half for Arsenal to maintain its perfect Europa League campaign with a 1-0 win over 10-man Red Star Belgrade on Thursday.
Five minutes after Milan Rodic was sent off for a second yellow card, Giroud struck with an overhead kick five minutes before the final whistle after Theo Walcott headed the ball to him.
“It was a great combination before the goal as well and he finished well,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
Arsenal opened a five-point lead in Group H with nine points. Red Star and BATE Borisov, which beat visiting Cologne 1-0, are on four. Cologne is bottom without a point.
Elsewhere, Lazio rallied to take three points at Nice with a 3-1 win in Group K, and Real Sociedad thrashed Macedonia’s Vardar 6-0 in Group L with Willian Jose scoring four goals.
Milan was held 0-0 at home by Greek team AEK in Group D, and Everton’s campaign suffered another blow after a 2-1 loss at home to Lyon in Group E.
Arsenal rested nine front-line players who were in the lineup for the English Premier League’s match against Watford on Saturday, which Arsenal lost 2-1. But goalkeeper Petr Cech was in the goal as captain and made his presence felt, making several perfect saves.
“It’s important to have a good goalkeeper in this kind of game, too,” Wenger said. “They were dangerous and Petr Cech kept us in the game.”
Mathieu Debuchy returned to the squad after a year due to injuries.
With several young players, including Reiss Nelson, Joseph Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the Gunners didn’t look dangerous until Giroud’s goal.
“I believe you win when you can, you do not decide when,” Wenger said. “What’s remarkable is the spirit we have shown. They defended very well, but the goal is a consequence of us wanting to play through them.”
Richmond Boakye headed the ball onto the crossbar in the biggest chance for Red Star.
Boosted by a 2-1 victory over Juventus in Serie A, Lazio took the sole lead in Group K after rallying to a 3-1 away win at Nice in a matchup of two teams that won their previous two games.
The fans didn’t have to wait long for goals.
Mario Balotelli headed home for the hosts four minutes into the game from Wesley Sneijder’s cross, but Felipe Caicedo equalized for the hosts just a minute later.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored his first goal for Lazio in the 65th before adding his second a minute from time.
Lazio stays perfect atop the group with nine points from three wins. Nice is second, three points back.
Zulte Waregem and Vitesse drew 1-1 and have a point each in the group.
REAL ON FIRE
Willian Jose scored two goals in each half for Real Sociedad on the way to thrashing Macedonia’s Vardar 6-0. Mikel Oyarzabal gave the Spaniards a first-half lead. The Brazilian striker then took charge before he was substituted on the hour. Alberto de la Bella added the final goal at the last minute.
Despite the victory, Real is second in Group L with six points, trailing leader Zenit St. Petersburg by three after the Russians beat Rosenborg 3-1 to stay perfect.
Rosenborg has three points and Vardar remains bottom after three defeats.
Everton is 16th in the 20-team English Premier League and is still without a win in three Europa League group matches this season.
Nabil Fekir converted a penalty kick six minutes into the match for Lyon after Mason Holgate downed Marcal in the area.
Players of both teams briefly clashed in the second half after a hard push from Everton captain Ashley Williams on Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes.
Just minutes later, Williams seemed to come to Everton’s rescue with a 69th-minute header. But Lyon needed just six minutes to answer with Bertrand Traore restoring the advantage to 2-1.
Under-pressure Everton manager Ronald Koeman has something to think about before league games against Arsenal and Leicester sandwich a League Cup match with Chelsea.
Italian side Atalanta leads Group E with seven points after a 3-1 win over Apollon Limassol. Lyon trails by two points in second.
Apollon has two points and Everton remains last with one point.
NO CHEERS IN BALKANS
Partizan Belgrade played without its fans at Skenderbeu in Albania on Thursday with the reverse situation- no Skenderbeu supporters – scheduled to happen in Serbia.
Both teams agreed on that measure at UEFA’s request to not “create a hot situation.”
The Group B game ended in a 0-0 draw.
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