Arsenal kick started their fifteenth successive Champions League campaign with a nervy 2-1 away at French champions, Montpellier. For the French side however, it was their first ever game in the Champions League and their fans made an electric atmosphere before kick off and throughout the game.
Steve Bould was on the touchline for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger was serving a touchline ban he received last season after comments he made about the referee’s performance in the Arsenal-AC Milan clash.
Olivier Giroud came back into the Arsenal starting line-up, to face his old side, in replace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but he was unable to make a real impact on the game and is still left looking for his first goal at the club.
Things didn’t start well for the English side though when captain, Thomas Vermaelen tripped up Younes Belhanda needlessly just inside the box and correctly so, the referee pointed to the spot. Belhanda picked himself up to chip home the penalty in a Pirlo fashion, which left goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, grasping at air to try and claw out the ball.
They were only behind for seven minutes though as Lukas Podolski carried on his fine goalscoring form by finishing off a lovely Arsenal move. This was quickly followed by a second and eventually the winner as Gervinho tapped home from a Carl Jenkinson cross.
The second half was one to forget for Arsenal as they spent most of it on the back-foot. Montpellier came out after the break and seemed a completely new team. They were passing the ball around a lot quicker, closing down all the Arsenal players and overall looked a lot better team, but unfortunately for the French side, they couldn’t make the possession pay as they ended up losing the game 2-1.
Montpellier goalscorer, Younes Belhanda, had a great chance in the second half to equalise when the ball landed at his feet just six yards out from goal, but his shot was hit straight at Mannone who stood up tall and caught the ball very well. That save topped off a great performance by the Arsenal keeper who replaced usual number one keeper, Szczesny, who was ruled out because of an ankle injury. A handful of top class saves by Mannone, may make Arsene Wenger think twice about who his number one keeper actually is.
A cheeky chip by Montpellier midfielder, Cabella, crashed against the Arsenal crossbar to the relief of the travelling fans and that was the last real chance the French champions created.
Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen said after the game: “In the second half we were not great. But we stayed strong and managed to hold on to win. I didn’t think it was a penalty but I would need to see it again. I was 100% sure I got the ball at the time, but maybe I should have kept him in front of me and been more patient.”
Arsenal goalscorer Lukas Podolski: “It was great to score again. I like these situations, it was a great pass by Olivier [Giroud] and I feel good in those moments. As Thomas said we played well in the first half but not so good in the second. But we got the three points and that is important. We know we can improve.”
Arsenal coach, Steve Bould, who was on the touchline for the match was satisfied with the Gunners performance: “I am really pleased. It was difficult. I thought we were excellent in the first half – we kept the ball and kept the crowd quiet. We looked a little bit tired in the second half. It was tough. It is quite an intimidating place to come and play so we’re glad to get the result”.
It probably wasn’t the performance Arsene Wenger and Arsenal wanted, but taking the three points back to England is exactly what they wanted and that is all that matters. A great start for the London club in their quest of Champions League glory for the first time in the club’s history.
Alex William Batt