Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Arsenal Win 2-1 Away To Montpellier

Arsenal played their first game of this season's Champions League away to Montpellier last night. It was Arsenal's fifteenth consecutive season in the competition but Montpellier's first.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team that beat Southampton 6-1 on Saturday. Olivier Giroud came in to play the central strikers role with Lukas Podolski moving to the left of the attacking trio. It meant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the man to miss out as he dropped to the bench.

Abou Diaby returned from injury to play in midfield with Frances Coquelin missing out. The other change was brought about through injury with Vito Mannone replacing Wojciech Szczesny in goal. It was a chance for Mannone to put his nightmare performance against Olympiacos last season behind him.

Arsenal started brightly and dominated the opening exchanges. The Montpellier fans created a great atmosphere as they welcomed the big time of the Champions League to their ground. It was crucial that Arsenal didn't give them too much to cheer about.

Just short of the 10 minute mark Montpellier got the break they were looking for when the referee awarded them a penalty. Thomas Vermaelen went in for a tackle when he really should have held off and he caught the Montpellier player. It may have looked a little harsh but it was definitely a penalty in my opinion.

Younes Belhanda stepped up to take the penalty and he did so in true Andre Pirlo style. As Mannone dived to his right Belhanda clipped the ball down the middle and it sailed into an empty net. The home team had the lead they wanted and their fans got even louder.

Arsenal didn't panic though as they kept playing their own game and the rewards soon came. In the 16th minute they drew level when Giroud played a neat ball to Podolski and left him with only the goalkeeper to beat. He made no mistake from just inside the penalty area with a tidy finish into the corner of the net.

Within two minutes Arsenal had taken the lead and this time it was Gervinho who got his name on the scoresheet. Carl Jenkinson played a great ball across the goal from the right and Gervinho was on hand to stab it home for his third goal of the week. He took the goal very well and it was good to see a wide player arriving in the box at exactly the right time.

The rest of the first half more or less belonged to Arsenal, but they failed to add to their lead. A one goal advantage is always very dangerous and a third goal would have been very welcome.

The second half started with Montpellier on the offensive as they looked to close Arsenal down all over the pitch. The Arsenal players were given no time on the ball and the mistakes soon followed. They rarely found any rhythm and the midfield in particular were found wanting at times.

Montpellier created a few reasonable chances and one very good one. Thankfully Mannone was up to the task on the night and did all that was required of him to stop them equalising. His save from an eight yard shot from Belhanda with 10 minutes left was the difference between a win and a draw for Arsenal.

Earlier in the half Montpellier had hit the Arsenal bar with a chip from outside the box. It was a far from solid defensive display from Arsenal in the second half but they just about held firm. On the dying minutes Diaby appeared to take down one of their players in the penalty area, but the referee didn't give the penalty this time.

Aaron Ramsey, Coquelin and Theo Walcott all came on towards the end of the game. The players to be withdrawn were Giroud, Podolski and Santi Cazorla. The little Spaniard showed he is not perfect last night with his fair share of misplaced passes.

He wasn't the only one though as the whole team struggled in that second half. The most important thing on the night was the three points for the win and Arsenal are now in a strong position in their group. Their next two group games are both at home and wins in those games would leave them in a great position at the halfway stage.

In the other game in Arsenal's group Schalke 04 won 2-1 away to Olympiacos to get off to a great start also. Arsenal face Olympiacos at home in two weeks time and they will be looking to get another three points on the board. Olympiacos don't tend to travel too well and it's a great opportunity for Arsenal to put some space between them and the Greek team.

I won't dwell on the Arsenal performance last night too much as it's never easy to play away from home in Europe. It was important for the team to keep winning with the big games they have coming up and they just about managed that. On Sunday afternoon they travel to Premier League champions Manchester City and they will need to defend better in that game.

City managed to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory away to Real Madrid last night and they will be looking to bounce back against Arsenal. Their defence has looked a little shaky this season and hopefully Arsenal can take advantage of that on the day.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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