Thursday, 22 November 2012
Arsenal have secured their place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the 13th successive year thanks to their 2-0 win over Montpellier at the Emirates last night. With Schalke beating Olympiakos 1-0, Arsenal have guaranteed their participation in the knockout stage with a game to spare. They can travel to Greece on the 4th December safe in the knowledge that progress has already been assured.
This was a game Arsenal should have won as the reigning French champions have had a difficult season so far. The first half was a rather forgettable affair with neither side troubling the other's goalkeeper. In the 10th minute Koscielny saw his powerful header cannon off the crossbar, narrowly missing out on giving the home side the lead. Podolski had a couple of half chances that were snatched at, both falling wide of the target. Arsenal just couldn't get into their rhythm, with misplaced passes occurring more often than we fans are used to.
Thankfully Arsenal came out all guns blazing in the second half and quickly took the lead. 3 minutes into the second half, some good work by Podolski and Vermaelen down the left flank saw the captain swing a cross into the box which found the head of Giroud, who knocked it down into the path of Wilshere. The young Englishman finished with a lovely flick off the outside of his left boot to score his first goal in nearly two years and give Arsenal the lead. You could see the goal meant a lot to Jack, the little scamp celebrating with his tongue out, pounding the badge on his chest. He was loving it.
It wasn't long before Arsenal scored again and effectively put the game to bed. Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first start in quite some time, robbed the ball in midfield and used his pace to drive at goal. He laid if off to Podolski just outside the penalty box, where the German striker played a delightful one-two with Giroud, whose lobbed ball over the defence fell beautifully to Podolski who laced an unstoppable shot past the helpless Montpellier keeper to make it 2-0. You won't see many goals better than that. Podolski absolutely destroyed the ball, making contact right on the sweet spot. It was a magnificent finish that took the remaining fight out of the French side.
And that was pretty much that. Giroud narrowly missed out on scoring against his old club, Geoffrey Jourdren making a good save, and Cazorla tested the keeper with a volley, although he sliced it a bit which took a lot of the power out of it. Deep into injury time Montpellier's Emanuel Herrera narrowly missed the target with a long range shot that Szczesny's dive would have probably stopped. A minute later the final whistle was blown and the game was over, 3 points and progress into the next round secured.
Overall it was a good team performance and the type of win we needed to build on the victory at the weekend against Spurs. There were a couple of moments in the first half where our defence looked typically suspect, carved open on a Montpellier counter-attack in the 12th minute for example, but they tightened things up in the second half. I felt Vermaelen looked much better than he has done recently, a bit more like the Vermaelen of old. Koscielny, apart from one blunder on the edge of our own box in the first half, combined well with Mertesacker in the centre of defence and Sagna was his usual reliable self at right back. One of the things that impresses me most about the Frenchman is his ability to control the ball so well when his heels are practically on the sideline; he does exceptionally well to keep possession with such limited space. In attack I felt Giroud had a great game despite not scoring. His control and first touch are brilliant for a big man and his cushioned header to set up Wilshere's goal was perfect, exactly how he should be utilised in attack. Use that height and strength to our advantage. His assist for Podolski's goal was sublime too.
So now we can travel to Olympiakos in a couple of weeks with the pressure off and use that game to maybe blood one or two youngsters in the competition. I don't think we should field a team with too little experience, we still want to win and top the group after all. But the Olympiakos game provides a perfect opportunity to start players like Arshavin, Ramsey and Gervinho, maybe even Chamakh or give Walcott a chance to shine up front in that centre forward position he so covets. Whichever team Wenger decides to choose, fans can relax a little bit. Well, as much as Arsenal fans can relax these days...
Thanks for reading.