Sunday, 16 September 2012

Arsenal's Champions League Trip To Montpellier Previewed

Arsenal have been through a lot of change over the last year or so. Thankfully their start to this season hasn't been affected like it was last season and they're currently third in the Premier League. The next few weeks will be very testing for them though starting with a game against the current French champions Montpellier.

Since Arsene Wenger's arrival at Arsenal they have routinely qualified for the Champions League, and made their way through the group stages to the knockout rounds. They went as far as reaching the final in 2006 only to be beaten 2-1 by Barcelona after playing almost all of the game with 10 players. In 2009 they made it to the semi finals but Manchester United were too good for them over two games.

This season they have been drawn to play Monpellier, Olympiacos of Greece and Schalke 04 of Germany. It's certainly not the toughest group they could have got, but their continued progress in the Champions League has made them one of first seeds for many years now. It's a group I think Arsenal are more than capable of qualifying from as long as they can win their home games.

It's never easy going away from home in Europe and Arsenal have had their fair share of setbacks over the years. There have also been some very memorable nights and there are few top European clubs who haven't suffered at home to Arsenal at some stage. Off the top of my head the wins away to Juventus, Real Madrid and both Milan clubs stick out.

Tonight's opponents don't exactly have a Champions League pedigree but it would be dangerous to underestimate them. A winning start is the ideal scenario for any team in the Champions League and Montpellier are there for the taking if Arsenal go about it the right way. They have had a poor start to their domestic campaign with only one win in five games so far.

Arsenal face a tough trip to Manchester City on Sunday, but they cannot allow that to affect the team selection tonight. Arsene Wenger has to pick the strongest lineup available to him to try to take all three points. The Premier League is probably Arsenal's priority but the rewards of the Champions League cannot be overlooked either.

Wojciech Szczesny didn't make the trip and it looks like he injured himself yet again on Saturday. He wasn't at his best in gifting Southampton their goal and his poor kicking afterwards may have been a direct result of the ankle injury he appeared to pick up. It gives Vito Mannone an opportunity to show what he can do yet again and hopefully he will grasp it with both arms.

He struggled badly when an under strength Arsenal team lost away to Olympiacos last season in a game which was of no real significance. Since then he has performed well on loan at Hull City and done likewise in keeping two clean sheets filling in for the injured Szczesny this season. The way Arsenal are defending at the moment has to make any goalkeepers job a lot easier.

I'm not sure if Abou Diaby will be fit to play tonight but if he isn't I would expect Francis Coquelin to retain his place for his defensive abilities. Up front Wenger has an interesting choice between Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud for the central striking role. I would like to see Giroud play against the club for whom he was the joint top scorer in France last season.

That doesn't mean Podolski should be left out of the team as his attitude and commitment are fantastic. I'm sure he can be accommodated on the left hand side of the Arsenal attack. Who misses out is a matter for the manager to decide.

Otherwise I don't think there should be too much change from the team Taft won so well against Southampton on Saturday. The way I see Arsenal have to be favourites to win tonight as long as they show up with the right attitude and play the way they have so far this season. I'm predicting a tight 2-1 for Arsenal with Giroud getting his first goal of the season too.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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