Arsenal must raise their game to have a chance against Manchester City
Gunners got the win in France, but the performance left a lot to be desired
High up in the stands at the Stade de la Mosson, Arsene Wenger did not enjoy the experience of being an Arsenal fan for the night, but he did enjoy the result.
Arsenal are off to a winning, if unconvincing, start to their 15th successive Champions League campaign and that is what counts at this stage of the competition.
In the end it took some resolute defending, some wayward finishing from the French champions, and a reasonable slice of luck for the Gunners, with Steve Bould in charge for the first time, to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
“We’ve had a decent start to the season and we have kept the run going so it is important all round,” said Bould. “We’ve got great team spirit and I think that was evident tonight. Everybody is digging in and things are looking ok.
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“We looked a little bit tired in the second half. It was tough. It is quite an intimidating place to come and play so we’re glad to get the result.”
Bould looked and sounded relieved and that was understandable. Their hosts may have been Champions League debutants but they gave Arsenal a real test and were highly unfortunate to end the game empty-handed.
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The penalty decision against Thomas Vermaelen that saw Montpellier take the lead was perhaps questionable, but even after Younes Belhanda had impudently chipped it in, there was plenty of time for Arsenal to regroup.
They did just that. The move that saw the ball transferred from Santi Cazorla to Olivier Giroud to Podolski and then into the net was swift and lethal. Within two minutes the Gunners were in front, Carl Jenkinson’s fine overlap and cross putting a tap-in on a plate for Gervinho to score this third goal in four days.
Arsenal rode their luck after that, and it was not comfortable viewing for supporters or for Wenger up in a seat in the stand.
There was no communicating with the bench this time for Wenger, and Arsenal almost paid the price. Given how the Gunners struggled in the second half it was highly mysterious that no substitution was made until 76 minutes had elapsed.
Arsenal had been outrun in midfield in the second half, and the introduction of Aaron Ramsey was overdue. It was a baptism of fire for Bould in the dugout, and he will have to learn quickly.
Abou Diaby looked exhausted before the hour mark, yet stayed on the pitch for the full 90 minutes and was very fortunate not to pick up a second booking and give away another penalty. Cazorla, who has played every minute since the start of the season and a couple of games for Spain was another who ran out of gas.
Rotation may have to be considered on Sunday. There is plenty of recovery time, but Arsenal were exposed in Montpellier and Wenger cannot go into a game at the home of the champions thinking the same XI can get a result.
Giroud will presumably be returning to the bench. The Frenchman endured a fruitless night against his old club and is short on confidence and fitness. He has only started three games, so it is no time to panic, but he could use a goal sooner rather than later.
Wenger already has a dilemma for the weekend on who to play up front, if not Giroud. Podolski likes the left flank and coming inside, and Gervinho is also more natural wide on the right.
The Ivorian did well there against Southampton on Saturday, but the gulf between playing them and City will become all too evident this weekend.
Victories over teams such as Southampton and Montpellier are one thing, but the Gunners’ next two league games are against the champions of England this weekend and then the champions of Europe, Chelsea, the following weekend.
A repeat of Tuesday night’s performance against either of them, and this unbeaten start will be a distant memory.