What: UEFA Champions League – Group B
Who: Montpellier vs Arsenal
When: Tuesday, 18th September, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, France
Welcome European Distraction for Girard’s Men
Montpellier set out on their first ever campaign in Europe’s elite competition against arguably a player who did more than anyone else to take them there – Olivier Giroud. Coach Rene Girard hopes that a year after devising a system to help him score 21 goals in Ligue 1, he can find a way of stopping the powerful forward. Having kept another of his players from joining Arsenal, defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Girard may have the key to doing just that. Along with Hilton, Yanga-Mbiwa forms a formidable centre-back pairing which will make life tough for Arsenal’s strikers. Given that the Gunners have had to modify their forward line this season, this could be a tough place for them to come and score.
But Montpellier have not enjoyed a great start to the campaign. The French champions lost on Friday night against newly promoted Reims and have won just once this season in five Ligue 1 games. Much of the side’s struggles can be put down to the fact that Giroud’s replacement, Emmanuel Herrera, is still settling in and one of the stars of last year, Younes Belhanda, has been injured.
Against Reims, coach Girard rested key players including Yanga-Mbiwa and Remy Cabella. Montpellier still dominated much of the game and Arsenal should not expect a straightforward match here. Montpellier had not planned to win Ligue 1 last year and are not counting on defending their title this season, so this Champions League adventure is one they will savour – this is a team who can afford to throw all their eggs into the European basket. A now fit Belhanda in tandem with Cabella can be a real threat and added to the side’s usual solidity, the pair’s creativity and guile could help fire Montpellier to a famous victory.
Arsenal Start Gathers Momentum
The start to the new season for Arsenal has been one of rapid evolution. Two 0-0 draws against dogged defences gave encouragement that the Gunners were finally looking more solid at the back, but questions persisted over who would score. An impressive 2-0 victory at Liverpool, allied to a 6-1 humbling of Southampton have ensured Arsenal have moved on quickly from the departure of Robin van Persie. For once too, they appear to have got the defence right first.
Spain international Santi Cazorla has been the star of the season so far, his probing from midfield the key to Arsenal’s best attacking moves and ensuring Cesc Fabregas’ place in the team has finally been handed on to a worthy replacement. Striker Lukas Podolski too has settled in quickly at the Emirates, with two goals in four games and there is a slightly more ruthless look to Arsenal than there has been for a while. All Arsene Wenger needs now is for Jack Wilshere to return and for Giroud to start scoring.
Arsenal have never lost an away game in France and Wenger will be more clued up on Montpellier than most. He will know his men face a tough task breaking down a normally solid team and will hope that his side can impose themselves as they begin their fifteenth consecutive Champions League campaign. But Wenger will not be in the dugout for this or Arsenal’s next two group games after a UEFA suspension following his team’s exit from the competition last season to AC Milan. And so all eyes will be on Steve Bould to see if Wenger’s new assistant can continue to impress following his promotion this summer.
Montpellier 0-1 Marseille [2-4 on pens] (26/08 Ligue 1)
Sochaux 1-3 Montpellier (01/09; Ligue 1)
Reims 3-1 Montpellier (14/09; Ligue 1)
Stoke 0-0 Arsenal (26/08; Premier League)
Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal (02/09; Premier League)
Arsenal 6-1 Southampton (15/09; Premier League)
Montpellier: John Utaka; Jamel Saihi
Arsenal: Abou Diaby (doubt); Jack Wilshere; Bacary Sagna; Lukasz Fabianski; Tomas Rosicky; Wojciech Szczesny
Players to watch
Montpellier – Younes Belhanda. The Moroccan midfielder is a man who can make things happen for Montpellier and he will be determined to take his chance to shine on the Champions League stage. If given time and space, Belhanda could hurt Arsenal and help Montpellier to what would be a famous victory at the Stade de la Mosson.
Arsenal – Olivier Giroud: The Arsenal man scored so many goals on France’s south coast last season and what was most impressive was the range of strikes. With his head, overhead kicks, close range finishes and clinical shots from further out, Giroud is able to score all kinds of goals. Adept both with space to run into and in tight areas, he has all the things a modern striker is meant to have. But so far he has not shown Arsenal what he is capable of. Perhaps a visit back to Montpellier will jog his memory.
With Arsenal’s defensive improvements this season, this is a clash of two sides who are solid at the back, but with plenty of creativity going forward. There are questions though over the main forwards in both sides; Giroud yet to get going for Arsenal and Herrera still settling into life on the French south coast.
Expect Arsenal as usual to control possession and probe diligently, but Montpellier are capable too and will have their moments. They will look to find Belhanda and get him involved in the play as much as possible. Much could rest on the ability of Souleymane Camara to provide width out wide and expose Arsenal’s rampaging full backs. If they can do that, Montpellier could have some luck. But Arsenal’s new found solidity should put them in good shape to resist La Pallaide.
The key to breaking down Girard’s side may be the width offered by Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson from deep. Whilst Gibbs has done well on the left, Jenkinson appears more reserved on the right at times and Arsenal may struggle to create space if they cannot work the wide areas well. Given that it is the first match of the group, Arsenal will be keen not to lose on their travels, while Montpellier would probably take a point from the favourites to top the section. All signs point to a stalemate. Montpellier 0-0 Arsenal.
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