Last year, we went into our Champions League campaign away to the German champions. It was a tight game; Dortmund showed just why they nipped Bayern to the title. Their brilliance was evident and we struggled to kill the game off after going 1-0 up with the help of van Persie (Boo). This season was the same, except it weren’t the German champions we faced, it was the French ones – Montpellier.
They weren’t to be underestimated and despite a poor start to their domestic season, Montpellier were up for it. Wenger was forced to sit in the stands of the atmospheric Stade de la Mosson, after being handed a 3-game ban by UEFA. So it was Steve Bould who took over and the team given the task of beating the opposition was as follows:
Vito Mannone was brought back into the squad after Szczesny received an ankle injury, and Olivier Giroud got his spot back from The Ox. Perhaps a little surprising was the non-inclusion of Laurent Koscielny. He’s yet to start a game so far and although the defence hasn’t done too shabby this season, you’d think he’d at least be given a start. But no, the club stuck with the so far, so good formula. Well, why not? The dynamic, interchanging midfield was set out to dominate and the leggy Abou’s return was a sign that the reliance was on power to outrun their midfield. Mikel continued in his new position and Santi was looking to further his impressive start.
Podolski’s raw power mixed with Gervinho’s enthusiastic movement and Giroud’s strength, link-up play and aerial prowess made for an exciting forward 3, and as the teams lined-up for the largely talked about pre-game handshakes, you could tell it was going to be a good day. Purely because some genius placed Cazorla next to Mertesacker in the line up.
The game started and just 20 odd seconds into the game the referee called for a foul on Diaby. Firstly, it wasn’t a foul. Secondly, he was booked. 20 seconds into the game. Ridiculous. Anyway, the game flowed on and in the 8th minute the ref had his whistle out again (that’s not a euphemism), this time giving a penalty to the home side. Vermaelen, pretty stupidly, put his foot in and missed the ball. My only issue is I thought it was a free-kick, not a penalty. Belhanda stepped up, and Panenka’d it. 1-0 Montpellier.
That lead lasted as long as Santi’s legs because not so long after, Podolski equalised. After some good build up play (19 successive passes), Cazorla received the ball, laid it off to Giroud who’s deft touch fell to the feet of Lukas Podolski; he wasn’t going to miss, was he? Of course he wasn’t. A lovely finish into the bottom of the corner making it 3 in 5 for him now at his new home. Not bad. 1-1, 16 minutes gone.
That lifted the team and just 2 minutes later, the in-form Gervinho netted his 3rd in 2 games. He got the ball on the right, cut inside past a player and touched it Giroud. He couldn’t get it under control and it come off a Montpellier player straight into the path of the oncoming Carl Jenkinson, who delivered an exquisite, pinpoint cross along their back line where it fell to Gervinho. He duly finished in what was almost an exact copy of his 2nd goal of 11/12 pre-season against Cologne. 2-1 Arsenal, 18 minutes gone.
From then onwards we improved. More pace, more urgency, more like Arsenal. Gervinho was lively, Podolski was impressive and Giroud played like the perfect target man. In the midfield Diaby had an up and down game, Cazorla was uncharacteristically misplacing passes, yet still managed 84% pass completion, but behind them two was Arteta. And just as he does in every other game, he had perfect hair. And he played well. He took some knocks but kept getting up and carrying on. He managed 6 tackles and won 100% of his aerial duels. 88 touches and 95% pass accuracy; hard to think this is a new position for him.
There weren’t many more chances to speak of. Gervinho cut inside before half-time but his shot was blocked. The referee blew his whistle, this time not for a foul (Party!) as the first-half ended. 2-1, to the Arsenal, 2-1.
The second-half isn’t really worth discussing. They improved drastically and had us playing deep. Rémy Cabella’s intelligence and skill was causing us all sorts of problems, as was Younés Belhanda. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was solid, if a little dirty, and his surges forward would make Vermaelen proud. All in all they applied more pressure in the second 45.
Our midfield looked tired and lethargic, we were overrun and we’re lucky the defence was organised. They were limited to mainly long-range shots; our defence didn’t let them through, apart from Diaby. He felt generous. Last season they probably would’ve scored but the organisation and unity showed by the back 4 was impressive. We looked different and thankfully it worked.
We couldn’t play our normal game. We could only amass, by our standards, a measly 83% pass accuracy and 7 shots, with 4 being on target, but we did have 53% of the possession. Stark contrast to Montpellier’s 17 shots, although they also only had 4 on target. Which makes me think we played well: yes, they were dominant, but there’s only so many times you can be “unlucky” and as I said, we limited them. This new look side showed their mettle. Good defensive display.
Full-time: Montpellier 1-2 Arsenal. We are now unbeaten in nine away games against French opposition since the mid-1990’s. *Insert French for Lovely Jubbly here*
There were a few stand-out performances: Kieran Gibbs is constantly improving, Arteta was strong and dominant, Gervinho and Podolski again looked very lively and enthusiastic and Don Vito, in for the injured Wojciech, looked assured and done what he had to do. He came for crosses well and never looked uncomfortable. And in the second half he done extremely well to keep it 2-1 as Younés Belhanda had a great chance. Vito stood tall and made Younés rush to shoot, meaning he couldn’t place it where it wanted.
It was also another impressive display from Carl Jenkinson. He was strong, positionally spot on for the most part, 1v1 he was solid and he got forward well. Any more performances like that and Wenger could be persuaded to leave Sagna on the bench when he returns. Yet again a tireless performance. The fact that not so long ago (2010) he was playing in the conference, and now in the Champions League, is remarkable.
It wasn’t really a rampant performance such as the game on Saturday, but it was an effective game. 3 points is all that matters and we got them with a strong performance when we were up against it. We played just 3 days prior and the tiredness was clear; especially in the middle.
After the game, stand-in boss Steve Bould said:
I am really pleased. It was difficult. I thought we were excellent in the first half – we kept the ball and kept the crowd really quiet. The second half was tough and we looked physically a little bit tired. The crowd got right behind them and it is quite an intimidating place to come and play, so we’re glad to get the result.
He was also full of praise for 2 of the new boys. Firstly, Podolski:
Podolski has made a real impact. I have to say, I’ve not seen many finishers as good as him – ever. In training, right foot, left foot – he goes in at 100mph, which is fabulous. He’s a good trainer, a good boy. He has really added something this year. I’m not getting involved in whether we are missing Robin, I wasn’t involved at the time. Podolski is a good player.
Olivier did a really good team job for us tonight. He is another one who works really, really hard for the team. At set-pieces he is fabulous. He defends and he works for the team. I think he only had one chance tonight at the near post that was difficult. He is a really hard-working boy and I’m sure the goals will come.
I’m sure they will come as well, Steve. I’m sure they will come as well.
Hopefully the confidence gained from winning against a somewhat dominant side can be taken into the City game. They won’t be happy after their defeat at the Bernabéu so they’ll be up for it. It’d be nice if we could have a rejuvenation before the game. We’ll need to be fresher, press more and put them under immense pressure. That will be our first ‘big test’ although last night’s game was no walk in the park, and we passed the first deficit test so there’ll be a bit of extra confidence. Hopefully it’s enough. Hopefully hopefully hopefully. Oi Oi Oi.
Up The Arsenal.