The Champions League returned last night with Arsenal travelling to the first time french Champions Montpellier. The team line up was close to what many should have expected:
Mannone; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Diaby; Podolski, Cazorla, Gervinho; Giroud.
Subs: Shea, Koscielny, Santos, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott.
Arsenal started the game with a booking in 21seconds as Diaby took ball, man and family with a crunching tackle, Away from that we looked in control as we knocked the ball about at the first ever Champions League tie at the Stade de la Mosson.
However, on the 9th minute TV made a really unnecessary tackle on the left edge of the box, won none of the ball but enough to bring the man down. Penalty. The players and most viewers looked on in disbelief but replays showed that the Spanish refereeing posse got the call right. Bellhanda, who was heavily linked to Arsenal, stepped up and chipped it in as Mannone looked on.
The boys didn’t panic and as always under Le Boss we stuck to our game plan and it paid off within 7mins as Podolski was put through by Giroud through ball (after a 19 pass move, trust me I was counting) and tucked it passed the keeper.
Arsenal had the bit between their teeth and were in the lead two minutes later. This time Jenkinson was released down the right hand side and crossed perfectly for Gervinho to tap in (albeit off the keeper!).
Chances were sparse for the remainder of the half but Montpellier came out all guns blazing in the second half. With chances hitting the bar and missed due a lack of composure, we were facing our first real test of the season.
Montpellier may have lost their star striker but their creative and defensive core was very much present. They refused to let us settle on the ball and were adventurous in attack. Arsenal couldn’t get the ball down to create anything worth mentioning.
Montpellier’s best chance to equalise came in the 80th min as Belhanda found himself 8 yards in front of goal, after Mertesacker dove in and missed, but he could only fire it straight at Mannone. I prefer to call that a good save.
Match day one, three points. It was by no means a vintage performance but an away win in the Champions League is always a precious win. A part of me is also very happy that the back line got a proper test today too. Steve Bould has done a fantastic job of organising the defence but this reminds all involved that the hard work has just began. A point to note about the defence is the new found maturity of Jenkinson and Gibbs. Many have rightly been nervous about their positional play and concentration but they have really stepped up this season.
The unfairly over critised Giroud worked hard up front and played a large part in both our goals; Gervinho looks like a different player from the one who returned from the ACN a broken man. The forward who I’m quickly falling in love with is Podolski. He works tirelessly, uses his experience on the ball and is lethal in front of goal.
That bloke who moved up north got 30 goals last season, a tough act to follow for any individual but if Podolski can get 15 goals, Giroud 10 (I’m being realistic!) and 20 between Theo, AOC and Gervinho; the void can be filled through a balanced team. Surely a more healthy solution for the all involved?
In other news, there has no been no movement on the Theo Walcott contract situation. Wenger, who hasn’t started Theo since the first game of the season, had his say yesterday:
“It can (change selection policy), but at the moment I still hope to extend his contract so at the moment, it doesn’t affect me. Of course at some stage…,”
“If in April it (the contract) is not done, you can think it will be difficult to do.”
He added In response to potential fans backlash toward Walcott (ehem, Fossie from row 8!);
“You want your players to be supported no matter what kind if contractual situation they are in,” Wenger added.
“I hope it will not affect him and that it will not affect our fans.
“Theo has gone through a lot at 23 years of age. A lot of positives, a lot of negatives and he is level-headed.
“We are lucky: I don’t know what they do at Southampton, but they bring players out, (Alex Oxlade) Chamberlain and him, with their feet on the ground.”
That’s it for today. The Champions league is off and running with three points already on the board.
Next up City away. The main aim is to go there and not lose. With City leaking goals we can definitely come away with something if we stick to our new found principles in defence and natural attacking instinct.
Have a good one,