View From The North Bank: Montpellier 1 Arsenal 2
Another year, another Champions League campaign. I have to confess that I rarely get excited about the group stages. Being, as we are, long term residents of Pot A we don’t tend to get an early glamour tie and therefore most of our games at this point seem to be engagements we have to fulfil rather than encounters that really get the blood pumping.
Maybe it’s a bit arrogant as a fan of a club who are part of the Champions League furniture but I often see these games as run outs to hone form ahead of more important domestic challenges. With all due respect to Montpellier, that’s how I saw this game, a good workout to help us get up to speed for Sunday.
There was a feeling before the match that, with City on the horizon, it might be sensible to rotate a few players. Personally, I was pleased that Wenger stuck with most of the winning team from Saturday. Sure, there are players itching for some minutes but it’s also important to embed the spine of the team and make sure that those fledgling combinations have another outing before braving the Etihad.
Despite an early set back, after Belhanda was bundled over by an over eager Vermaelen, we settled into a familiar pattern. Podolski and Gervinho pulled the Montpellier defence out of shape whilst Diaby and Cazorla prompted and probed. Our two goals were testament to the fluidity of the attacking unit.
Podolski’s goal was the end product of some delicate team work and the raw desire to fashion a goal scoring opportunity. Some intricate passing and a clever poke from Giroud found the penetrative run of Podolski who finished with admirable composure.
More purposeful running led to the second, this time from Gervinho. Seemingly buoyed by his brace at the weekend he was eager to run at his man. Here a dribble to the heart of the Montpellier defence was interrupted but the ball was only displaced to Jenkinson who delivered an unstoppable cross for Gervinho to bundle home.
From there on it should have been plain sailing. We saw out the rest of the first half, controlling the tempo and limiting the hosts to long range efforts and well-handled set pieces. The second half was decidedly less comfortable.
In fairness to Montpellier they flew out of the traps and played with a tempo they had lacked in the first period. Our passing began to suffer and possession was surrendered too easily too often. As the game drew on we began to look tired. Diaby in particular rediscovered his old habit of hanging on to the ball too long and switching off when his man charged into the box. Fortunately the back four were organised enough to compensate whilst Mannone reacted well when the back line was occasionally breached.
The issue of tiredness again raises the question about rotation. Four or five sets of fresh legs would have almost certainly lasted better as Montpellier upped their effort but would they have had the understanding that led to us taking the lead in the first place? Ultimately, it’s only a theoretical question but the decision to stick with the bulk of a settled team was just about vindicated in the end.
The important thing, as with all group stage matches, is to record three points and we should be encouraged that we did. An early away win is always valuable and qualification is hopefully now more probable than possible.
Focus now switches back to the Premier League and a match to seriously raise the pulse. Fortunately we have four full days to recover and, fingers crossed, no new injuries. We travel north on the back of three wins and five unbeaten. We are beginning to score goals and our defensive resolve is helping to secure points that may have slipped in years gone by. Manchester City present a very interesting test but certainly not one we should shy away from.
Keep The Faith.