Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Arsenal's Champions League Game With Montpellier Previewed

With the 5-2 victory over Spurs still fresh in the memory it's back to Champions League action for Arsenal tonight. They play at home to a Montpellier team that has only taken one point in their four games so far and can say goodbye to any chance of making the knockout stages. The group is down to a three horse race between Arsenal, Schalke and Olympiacos with the German team in the lead.

Arsenal had the perfect start to their group with a win away to Montpellier followed by a home win over Olympiacos. Unfortunately they forgot to turn up at home to Schalke and were beaten by the better team on the night. In the return game Arsenal raced into a 2-0 lead in Germany, but they couldn't hold on to it and ended up drawing 2-2.

As the group stands an Arsenal victory would guarantee their participation in the next stage of the competition as long as Schalke win at home to Olympiacos. If the Greek team can take even a point out of that game it would mean Arsenal need to get something out of their trip to Greece. Arsenal have been beaten twice away to Olympiacos in the last few years, but they had already secured qualification on each occasion.

It would be far from an easy task for Arsenal to have to travel there needing a point or more. The atmosphere on the night would be intimidating to say the least, but hopefully it won't come to that. If second place in the group is guaranteed before that game I can see the boss playing a weakened team with such a hectic schedule ahead of the team.

In team news for tonight the big news is Theo Walcott's omission from the squad after picking up a shoulder injury on Saturday. It looked a nasty fall at the time and he has had problems with his shoulders in the past. If memory serves me correctly he had pins inserted to hold them together and his latest injury has to be a bit of a concern.

He played very well on Saturday yet again and he is showing that he is a valuable asset to the team. Hopefully his contract situation can be sorted but the "sooner rather than later" aspect of that has long passed. The only way he will be an Arsenal player next season is if he decides he wants to stay.

It would cost an awful lot of money to replace him added to him leaving on a free transfer. If a wage that suits him can't be agreed upon maybe the club could make up the difference in a loyalty bonus spread over the length of a new contract. His current situation hardly shows loyalty but us Arsenal fans have learned to our peril that real loyalty is a very rare commodity among professional footballers.

Whatever way it pans out I hope to see him at the club next season despite the shortcomings in his game at times. He has worked hard to show what he can do when he has got a chance this season and he certainly has something to offer the team.

With Walcott out there is at least some good news as both Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho are available for selection. The team could really do with a proper left back in it again and if Gibbs starts he showed enough before his injury to suggest he is that player. His inclusion wouldn't be a blow to Andre Santos as the Brazilian is the other player to miss out through injury.

I'm not sure if Gervinho will start as there are a few players looking to replace the injured Walcott. Both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andrey Arshavin will be hoping to get their chance with Walcott out too. I'd like to see Chamberlain get a chance to show what he can do on the right side of Arsenal's attacking trio.

I can't imagine there will be too many changes from the team that beat Spurs. If Gibbs is included in the defence it would mean either Laurent Koscielny or Thomas Vermaelen would have to miss out. Per Mertesacker has made himself the first choice central defender despite his lapse for Sours first goal on Saturday.

In a straight choice between Vermaelen and Koscielny I can only imagine Vermaelen will win. Neither player has been setting the world alight with their defending this season, but the chances of the club captain being left out are few and far between.

Montpellier played very well in the second half when they lost 2-1 at home to Arsenal. They were probably a little unlucky to lose that game, but they have only taken one point since then. Their defeats away and them at home to Olympiacos were a bit of a surprise to me.

Their defence of their French league title hasn't begun too well as they're 14th in the table after 13 games. They have only won three of those games and it doesn't look likely that they will have much chance of retaining their title.

With very little to play for it's hard to see how much this game can mean to Montpellier. However, there's also the possibility that they can play without any pressure on them and put in a very good performance. Arsenal cannot afford to treat Montpellier lightly or they could find themselves in a whole heap of trouble.

Arsenal need to show the attacking flair which they have found over the last few games, but a bit more defensive strength too. I like to see Olivier Giroud in the team as he is a great asset defending set pieces as well as for his forward play obviously. The most crucial part of Arsenal's game could be how they cope in midfield.

In the game in France they were almost over run in midfield in the second half. If the midfield battle is being lost tonight there may have to be a few changes in how the team are playing. Montpellier cannot be allowed to control the game and the boss will need to find an answer on the slot if they are.

I think the team will have got a real boost from the victory over Spurs and the slip ups by some of the other teams around them in the league. I'm hoping that boost will give them a little more confidence to come out and play a more controlled game than they have being doing recently. I would love to see Arsenal boss the game from the first to the last minute and brush Montpellier aside.

Having said that I would settle for a scrappy win and a win for Schalke too to ease any nerves ahead of the last group game. I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal with Giroud getting his name on the scoresheet against his former club. So many ex-Arsenal players score against them that it's about time our players started doing it against their former clubs.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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