Montpellier v Arsenal: Tactical Preview, Probable XI And Score Prediction
Before previewing our trip to France this evening, just a couple of follow-up notes on yesterday’s post.
Four games is not a big enough sample size to arrive at any conclusions regarding Arsenal’s tactics, neither was it the point of the article. Rather, it was to highlight a perceptible change in Arsenal’s approach towards maintaining possession of the football.
G4L also did something on similar lines yesterday. In this piece, he points out that it’s Santi Cazorla’s all-round footballing ability and tactical discipline which is helping Arsenal defend better. Interestingly, he’s also used pictures to show the completely hap-hazard formation Arsenal take in attack. Definitely worth a read.
Moving swiftly on, Arsenal take on Montpellier tonight as the Champions League gets underway. The French title-holders have had a miserable start to the campaign, losing three of their first five league games. The only victory for Rene Girard’s side has come against lowly Sochaux and for their fans, last season’s historic title-winning exploits are quickly receding from memory.
With influential playmaker Younes Belhanda not at his best and new signing Emanuel Herrera (Olivier Giroud’s replacement) taking time to settle into European football, Montpellier haven’t yet found their attacking rhythm this season. Arguably though, the majority of their problems have been at the back. For a team that boasted the best defense in Ligue 1 last season, the new Champions League entrants have already conceded eight goals. Perhaps one of the reasons could be an unsettled back four, with Girard fielding a different combination in each of the five games.
Arsenal’s confidence is sky-high after the 6-1 drubbing of Southampton and the Gunners are expected to come away with three points. Abou Diaby is back in the squad and likely to start the game. Wojciech Szczesny has been left out due to an ankle injury and with Fabianski also injured at present, Mannone will get another opportunity to impress in goal while James Shea will provide back up on the bench.
Arsenal’s squad looks fairly strong at the moment with practically every position doubly covered so naming the starting eleven is difficult.
Laurent Koscielny could make an appearance today replacing one of Vermaelen or Mertesacker. Arsenal’s captain has been ever-present for club and country so far this season so the Belgian might be rested for the bigger City test on Sunday. With Kieran Gibbs’ previous troubles with injury, Arsene could also hand a start to Andre Santos at left-back.
Abou Diaby is sure to come into the midfield having sat out the Southampton game but Wenger might still play Coquelin and rest Mikel Arteta. Up front, Podolski should definitely start on the left while Walcott may come into the team in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain. And although Giroud will be looking forward to facing his former club, Gervinho’s performance at the weekend justifies another start for the Ivorian so Arsenal’s number 12 may have to be satisfied with another cameo off the bench.
But while Arsene Wenger will be tempted give some of his players a rest ahead of the big game against Manchester City at the weekend, the manager will also wish to get our European campaign off to a solid start. A win tonight would also provide a confidence boost for our visit to the Etihad and I expect Arsene to make only 2-3 changes at most.
Tactically, although Arsenal look much more flexible this season, Arsene Wenger is known for basing his strategies on the players at his disposal rather than the opposition. In that respect, our disciplined approach in falling back without the ball looks set to continue with Podolski and AOC offering the work-rate on flanks to provide protection to the full-backs.
Having said that, I have some concern for the effectiveness of this strategy if Theo Walcott starts on the right flank. Without being harsh on him, Theo rarely shows the awareness, willingness or urgency to track back and offer genuine protection to the right-back. With Jenkinson staying deeper, I expect Montpellier to find some space to attack the right-back if Walcott starts on the right instead of AOC.
In forward areas, much of Arsenal’s link-up play against Southampton was breathtaking. The movement of players in the final third was very impressive and Arsene Wenger will be hoping Cazorla, Podolski and Gervinho continue where they left off on Saturday. Montpellier will be strengthened by the return of captain Yanga-Mbiwa in central defense but if they leave space between the lines like Arsenal’s last opponents did, the Gunners could score more than the odd goal.
The game could get off to a slow start with Arsenal unlikely to press high up the pitch and the home team wary of committing too many players forward and exposing their leaky defense. An early goal would help open up the game but if that fails to materialise, we may see a cagey approach from both sides at the start of the match.
Overall though, the portents indicate an Arsenal victory. My score prediction is 3-0 to the Gunners.
Enjoy the game.