Arsenal 2 (Wilshere 49, Podolski 63) – Montpellier 0
Man of the Match – Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
Nerves were soothed last night, though I am suffering a bit of headache at the moment, thanks to staying awake all the way till 3:30 AM to watch Champions League action.
Pre-match, emphasis was quite clearly on collecting 3 points, against a Montpellier side, reeling with injuries, ill-discipline and poor form. And, 3 points we did collect in the end.
There were no surprises in the Arsenal line-up, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for the injured Theo Walcott. There was also place on the bench for the returning duo of Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho, who almost a year back, had massively contributed to this blog.
Montpellier, on the other hand, having sold their top scorer from last season, to us, also had to contend with the absence of their top scorer this season, Soulyamane Camara. In came young French striker, Gaetan Charbonnier, who was purchased in the close season, from the French second division, a la Olivier Giroud.
The French champions started with 5 defenders, with Mathieu Deplagne taking his place in the centre of defence, and highly sought after captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa starting in the centre of midfield.
The first half was a case of both sides looking to get some sort of foothold in the game. Montpellier’s young side looked enterprising and chirpy, while Arsenal kept losing possession, and heaping unnecessary pressure on themselves. Luckily, Montpellier lacked any sort of creativity to trouble Arsenal’s back line.
Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta were guilty of giving away the ball several times. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked a bit of a shadow of himself from last season, as the bulky winger failed to get the better of left-back Henri Bedimo. Bacary Sagna looked industrious throughout.
The southern French side looked closest to scoring first, as Vermaelen failed to deal with the pace and trickery of Remy Cabella, and Szczesny looked unsure when dealing with a cross from the left.
Arsenal almost took the lead, when an inch perfect cross from Thomas Vermaelen on the left, was nearly headed in by Laurent Koscielny. Instead, it struck the bar. Seconds later, Per Mertesacker showed Bergkamp-like skills, to manouver past a couple of defenders, but his long legs came in the way.
Szczesny had to come off his line to deny Anthony Mounier an attempt at goal, while Lukas Podolski came close with two chances, both wide however. Olivier Giroud too snapped at a shot.
Arsenal came out in the second half with more directness. A Vermaelen cross was headed on to the path of Jack Wilshere, and the English midfielder, poked the ball past Geoffrey Jourdren. It was his first goal since November 27, 2010 when he scored against Aston Villa at Villa Park in the league in a 4-2 win, and his first in the Champions League, since he scored against Shakhthar Donetsk, in a 5-1 win in October 2010.
Montpellier toiled but a lack of creativity meant that the game failed to open up in the second half. Their loud bunch of supporters were louder than the home support, but Arsenal struck again, with their former hero Olivier Giroud involved heavily again.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ran in from the right, and his pass met Podolski, who played a quick one-two with Giroud, who displayed exceptional technique in perfectly setting up Podolski on the volley. The German’s shot off his left foot, was an absolute cannon, and unstoppable.
There was very little left in the game after that, as Montpellier resigned to losing, and were happy to restrict their hosts to two goals, while Arsenal created few opportunities there after, with Cazorla and Giroud coming close.
Plenty of positives. None bigger than keeping a clean sheet. Defensively, Cabella looked dangerous as he gave Vermaelen something to think about. Koscielny looked like a beast at times. I feel he is best suited to start along side Mertesacker, purely because of his pace and tenacity to defend and cover.
Midfield was sloppy in the first half, and against a better opposition, we would have been punished. Giroud looks to fit seamlessly in the new direct style of play, gathering two more assists. Impressively, he now has 7 goals and 7 assists in 18 games, which is not a bad return at all. Lukas Podolski, like he always does drifted inwards, to create more opportunities at goal. The presence of a real defender, like Vermaelen or a Gibbs, helps him free up, instead of the added burden of defending when he was playing ahead of Santos.
Defensively, there need to be some improvements though. Montpellier had enough time and space to exploit, but failed to do so, and like I said, we would get slaughtered against a stronger opposition. Chamberlain seems to be having a second tough season, and the pace seems to have gone a bit. So, clearly work required.
All in all, you couldn’t ask more than a win against tricky opposition. We can look forward to the final group game with lesser tension. For now, Aston Villa at Villa Park, late evening on Saturday.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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