Olivier Giroud's acrobatic overhead volley was enough to give Arsenal a narrow 1-0 win versus Crvena Zvedza in Group H of the UEFA Europa League at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia.
In game short of quality from both sides, the Frenchman's goal five minutes from time was enough to give the Gunners their third successive win to go top of the standings by a margin of five points, after BATE Borisov beat FC Koln by a single goal in Belarus.
Lack of quality on show
In an opening period bereft of quality, both sides however managed to carve out decent openings.
In the 14th minute Red Star 'keeper Milan Borjan made a smart save with an his outstretched leg to deny Theo Walcott an opener for the visitors, following a scrambled clearance from Jack Wilshere's lofted free-kick.
At the other end, defensive problems continued to dog Arsene Wenger's side as Richmond Boakye came the closest to opening the scoring for either side, the Ghanaian's downward header from a corner mid-way through the first half clipping the angle of the woodwork, with Petr Cech flailing at his near post.
The Czech stopper however was on hand to deny Nemanja Radonjic's goal-bound effort from close range, with Gunners' midfielder Reiss Nelson blocking the Serbian's rebound shot.
Game threatens to opens up
The visitors needed a injection of urgency and on resumption, Arsenal were finding space on the flanks. Both Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nelson were becoming a greater factor in proceedings, with the latter forcing Borjan to push away his well-struck shot.
Zvedza also had upped the tempo with Cech forced into action to stop Radonjic's left-footed strike.
As the game ticked past the hour mark, the game once again settled into its' familiar first half pattern with openings created, but both the final ball and execution in front of goal lacking from both sides in the Serbian capital.
The hosts continued to show signs of life down the left-hand channel, with Radonjic remaining Red Star's likely biggest threat to breaking the Arsenal resistance.
Giroud magic decisive
Pre-match boss Vladan Milojevic had stated the importance of not being humiliated by their more illustrious opponents and with less than 15 minutes left, the hosts began to retreat further into their own half.
When full-back Milan Rodic however was sent off for a second yellow card in the 80th minute, suddenly the visitors sensed blood.
Minutes later the decisive moment arrived. Wilshere had attempted to pull the strings in the Arsenal midfield for the duration and the former England international was instrumental in the goal.
After the ball was flipped into the box, Wilshere flicked a delivery toward Walcott. The winger then returned the favour to Olivier Giroud, who off-balance arced his body and acrobatically looped his overhead kick over Borjan and into the top corner of the net as the French striker wheeled away in celebration.
The hosts were gutted and despite a late aerial assault in the final minutes, Arsenal held on for a priceless win to take command of Group H.
Next up for the Gunners is the return fixture at the Emirates Stadium on November 2 in a fortnight's time.