Game in a Sentence

Arsenal recover from an early stumble to hold out for victory against a profligate Montpellier.

Observations

  • Montpellier built a 4-2-3-1 with generally useless Camara up front and Belhanda sandwiched between Mounier and the intermittently effective Cabella.
  • Arsenal meanwhile were ditto, with Giroud starting up by himself, Gervinho on the right, Cazorla in the middle and Lukas Podolski on the left. Gibbs was played a little deeper as left back, but Carl Jenkinson was a force in attack, playing a vital role in the Gunners’ play up front.
  • Arsenal looked shimmery good from the start, and Abou Diaby’s influence in front of the back four next to Arteta can’t be discounted, although he didn’t exactly get things off to a bright start by sliding the hell into Marco Estrada, you know, just because. YELLOW. Still, this didn’t exactly take away from his influence in teeing things off when Arsenal went forward.
  • Montpellier for their part were content to play a few balls over the top while generally staying deep. This allowed for more than a few snifters of goal, but the carpet was rolled out for them when Thomas Vermaelen decided to kick the legs out from Belhanda. The same player Panenka’d right down the middle and Montpellier took an early lead (9′) against the you-know-what.
  • It didn’t last long thanks to the wonderful work of Santi Cazorla, who instinctively played the ball to Giroud who set up Podolski waltzing in between the two Montpellier CBs in the 16th minute. Diaby, for what it’s worth, set up the whole show by finding Cazorla in the first place.
  • Arsenal scored almost immediately afterward from some marvelous work from the adventurous Carl Jenkinson, who sent a perfect low cross to the shin of a very much on fire (NOT LITERALLY) Gervinho. 1-2.
  • It’s far too early to say anything concrete one way or another, but for all the criticism lobbed at Arsenal in recent seasons, this team looked very concrete, particularly with Diaby marshalling the back and Arteta covering. Jenkinson had a marvelous game, Podolski gave the team that RvP-esque spark, and Giroud managed to find his legs eventually, although it wasn’t a “burn it to bits” kind of debut.
  • Meanwhile there were few bright lights at Montpellier, although Cabella worked hard and managed a shot that whistled by the right post. Rene Girard can’t have been happy, and he managed to get Montpellier to push farther forward, challenging Arsenal’s two holding mids. While he had a good game all around, Jamel Saihi came a little more into the match in the second half and Diaby seemed crowded out of the game.
  • Ergo, the second half was much more even. Montpellier struggled to find a pass through the Arsenal defense, but at least they looked entertaining in the search. Cabella is not afraid of a step-over or two (or smacking the ball off the bar after an audacious lob), and the team plays with a swagger of a club that knows it might not have this kind of stage time forever.
  • The pressure should have paid off for HSC in the last ten minutes, although some terrible individual decisions gifted the game to Arsenal. Belhanda worked the ball clean against the Mannone in net, only to shoot directly into his waiting arms (aww, that’s nice). And then Emmanuel Herrera forgot how to stay onside a few moments later, and fluffed a clear chance set up by Hilton.
  • And so Arsenal held on. There are some positives here from Girard but the team was far too negative in the first forty-five minutes. The French champions will have to be more positive at home if they want to capitalize on this season’s campaign.

Three Stars

1. Carl Jenkinson
2. Gervinho
3. Jamel Saihi