Montpellier 1-2 Arsenal: A Few Quick Observations
Arsenal withstood sustained spells of pressure from the home team in the second half and benefitted from some poor finishing by Montpellier to start our Champions League campaign with a crucial away victory.
Arsene Wenger started with what can now be construed as his first-choice starting eleven. Besides the enforced change of Mannone in goal for the injured Szczesny, there were only two changes from the Southampton game. Abou Diaby replaced Francis Coquelin while Olivier Giroud started ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This meant Gervinho moved to the right to accommodate the former Montpellier man through the middle.
Quite simply, the game can be divided into three parts – the frenetic start, Arsenal control after taking the lead and Montpellier’s surge in the second half.
The opening 10 minutes saw both teams trying to impose themselves on the game as the midfield and forwards pressed with purpose to win the ball back. However when in possession, neither side were composed enough to retain the ball for any amount of time. And until the 9th minute when Vermaelen conceded the penalty, the football was frantic without being fabulous.
Once Montpellier took the lead though, Arsenal upped their game immediately. Within seven minutes the scores were level, as quick interplay and good movement by Giroud and Podolski saw the German through on goal. Poldi took his time, waited for the goalkeeper to commit and then coolly finished his left foot. Things got even better when after another two minutes, Gervinho was on the penalty spot to turn home Jenkinson’s cross.
After the goal, Arsenal took control of proceedings and with the home support getting restless, the Gunners looked the more likely to score the next goal. Diaby and Arteta kept things ticking in midfield while Vermaelen and particularly Mertesacker looked calm in possession. At the back, Jenkinson was prone once again to giving the ball away from time to time but he contained the threat of Mounier on Montpellier’s left quite well during this period. In goal, Vito Mannone looked assured in his handling and Arsenal’s Italian goal-keeper made a fabulous fingertip save from Estrada’s left-footed shot in the 34th minute.
As expected, Montpellier came out with purpose in the second half. They pressed with determination, passed with speed and pulled Arsenal’s midfielders and defenders around the pitch with some excellent movement. On their part, Arsenal tried to dislodge the hand brake that had been inadvertently left on at half time but to no avail. Montpellier created chance after chance and but for better finishing they could have scored three goals in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
Somehow, the storm was weathered. After the hour mark, Arsenal once again started seeing more of the ball and keeping possession for extended periods of time. Still, Montpellier continued to pose a threat and with 10 minutes to ago, the home team put more pressure on Arsenal to secure an equalizer. The Gunners were focused enough at the back though and aided by some poor finishing, Arsenal came away with a vital three points.
A few quick observations.
With crucial games coming thick and fast, Arsene Wenger’s team selection puzzled some fans who had expected the manager to make more changes. Personally, I think AW’s decision was influenced by last season’s horror start. Getting off to a good start in the Champions League was paramount and seeing how the game panned out, Wenger was justified in fielding his best eleven on the night.
While the benefits of squad rotation are usually realised towards the end of the season, I think we’ll see more changes made in the domestic cup competitions and in the Champions League once Arsenal have secured their passage to the knockout stage. And once Wilshere, Rosicky, Sagna and Frimpong return, the manager will have the quality to change things around more regularly.
Giroud and Gervinho
While Giroud had only one chance on his left foot throughout the game, his work rate and movement was exceptional once again. The Frenchman assisted Podolski’s first goal, something which will give the striker some much-needed confidence. But I think Giroud needs quicker service in order to be effective and last night too, there were a couple of occasions when Diaby and Gervinho dallied on the ball when they might have been better placed to play the ball into the frontman quickly.
On the other hand, Gervinho continued his fine form from the weekend and looked menacing throughout the game. For me, he was Arsenal’s man of the match, with the Ivorian putting in a hard shift tracking back as well. Going forward, Gervinho looked dangerous in central areas and his goal came from a quick one two with Jenkinson and the subsequent run to the penalty spot, something you would normally associate with a central striker. Certainly, Arsene Wenger’s latest experiment at converting a wasteful winger into a sensational striker seems to be going well thus far.
Performance and result
Without doubt, yesterday’s performance indicates this team is very much a work in progress. If we have to compete with stronger teams, we’ll need to impose ourselves on the game a bit more. The regularity and casualness with which we conceded possession was also worrying, even if it was compensated by a high work rate in getting behind the ball.
Having said that, how many times have Arsenal have been accused of prioritizing performance over results? The players were visibly fatigued in the second half and in previous seasons, Arsenal have capitulated in similar situations. For that, the players deserve massive credit for grinding out what could prove to be a vital three points in our quest to finish top of the group.
A solid platform in the Champions League and a confidence booster for the visit to Manchester City. Arsenal also have an additional day to regroup and winning always make recovery that much easier.
I have some more thoughts on the balance of the team from last night’s game, hopefully will cover that in tomorrow’s post.