Red Star Belgrade could be without a quartet of first-team players for their eagerly-anticipated Europa League fixture against Arsenal, head coach Vladan Milojevic has confirmed.
The 1991 European Cup winners entertain Arsene Wenger's side at a sold-out Rajko Mitic Stadium in Serbia's capital on Thursday night (19 October) looking to produce a sizable upset.
Red Star, who beat Floriana, Irtysh Pavlodar and Sparta Prague to qualify for the group stages of this season's Europa League, thrashed Macva Sabac 4-0 over the weekend to extend their lead over fierce rivals Partizan Belgrade at the summit of the Serbian SuperLiga to four points.
They achieved such a commanding victory without the services of Brazilian winger Ricardinho and Ghanaian defender Abraham Frimpong, both of whom sustained injuries during a 5-0 Serbian Cup win over second-tier outfit Dinamo Vranje three days prior.
That duo will remain sidelined for the visit of Arsenal, while forward Nemanja Milic is also set to miss out despite returning to training on Tuesday. It remains to be seen if Gabon international Guelor Kanga will be deemed fit to feature having not played at all since that 1-0 triumph in Germany on 28 September.
"Nemanja Milic won't feature because he's only returned to training yesterday," Milojevic told reporters at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. "Ricardinho and Abraham Frimpong are also out injured. We will have to wait and see if Guelor Kanga recovers in time. He's been injured since the match in Cologne."
Red Star have made an excellent start to the 2017-18 campaign, conceding just two goals in 12 Serbian top-flight fixtures to date. However, Milojevic is under no illusions as to the size of the task facing his charges and expects Arsenal - the favourites to win Europe's secondary club competition for the first time - to be a cut above in terms of sheer fitness.
"We'll see how it goes tomorrow," he added. "It's bound to be a big test physically. Arsenal come from a league that's highly physical and their fitness levels are higher. Simply put, they are used to it and we are not. It's the matches that maintain players' overall fitness – not the training sessions. And they've got the advantage of playing highly demanding matches every week. But we will do our best and see where it leads us."
Arsenal have made several changes to their squad for their first Europa League group fixtures for two decades, with young hopefuls such as Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah and Marcus McGuane all playing some part in an entertaining 4-2 triumph against BATE Borisov. Similar alterations can be expected in Belgrade, although Milojevic evidently does not see that as a slight against his team.
"Even if they fielded a rotated team, that wouldn't mean that they are underestimating us - Arsene Wenger doesn't ever underestimate anyone," he said. "They participate in numerous competitions and that's why they have so many players in their squad. They have many talented players who can't wait to prove themselves to the manager. Whichever eleven start for Arsenal, they are a strong team. Make no mistake about that."