Arsenal 2 Montpellier 0: Qualification Done and Dusted
With the Gunners returning to winning ways following that resounding victory over Tottenham, Arsene Wenger’s men had an issue that required addressing – qualification to the next round of the Champions League.
Defending French champions, Montpellier, had an outside chance of playing in the Europa League if they got a positive result from the Emirates, but the daunting prospect of playing Olympiakos in Athens was an extra incentive for the Gunners, knowing fully that they have struggled in that part of the world.
The gods of injuries ravaged Theo Walcott yet again, as he pulled out from the squad due to a shoulder problem, allowing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to stake another claim for a starting berth. On the bright side, Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho returned back to the team but had to be content with places on the dugout.
Jack Wilshere was uncharacteristically sloppy in the early stages of the game but Arsenal’s first reasonable stint in attack saw Laurent Koscielny get on the end of a Thomas Vermaelen cross but the woodwork came to Geoffery Jourdren’s rescue.
Shortly afterwards, Per Mertesacker, yes, Mertesacker, darted forward with the ball and showed some fancy footwork in the edge of the area before he was blocked.
Montpellier’s skipper, Mapou Yanga-Mpiwa, played in an unfamiliar holding midfield role but he tore the Arsenal defense apart with a through ball to Anthony Mounier but Wojciech Szczesny bolted forward to anticipate the ball superbly. I can swear on Howard Webb’s head that Vito Mannone would have stayed on his line, waiting to make a super save or something.
Olivier Giroud and the Ox had half chances but Lukas Podolski had two chances to put his team ahead but he spurned both of them. The first chance arose when Koscielny was making one of his trademark slalom forays forward but he was blocked by Yanga-Mpiwa. The defender dallied on the ball and was robbed by Podolski’s whose right-footed drive went wide.
Later on, Podolski received a cushioned pass from Santi Cazorla but with the angle clearly against him, he still went for the shot and blasted his effort wide.
Ending the half with a scoreless stalemate didn’t go down well with everyone connected with Arsenal because a win for Olympiakos against Schalke would have put the Gunners in a precarious position.
Arsenal broke the deadlock when Podolski and Vermaelen combined well on the left before the Arsenal captain lofted a ball into the box. Giroud attacked the ball and cushioned it for Wilshere that wasn’t going to miss from that range.
That goal instilled some confidence into the Arsenal side but the players lost their footing as the game progressed. There were cases were the ball was lost further up the pitch and Montpellier threatened a couple of times as well.
Arsenal put their foot back on the pedal and were rewarded from a super goal from Podolski. The Ox used his reserves of pace to great effect on the right before teeing up Podolski. The German forward executed an inch-perfect one-two with Giroud before thumping a thunderous shot past Jourdren.
Podolski was certainly in the mood for target practice and the Ox created another chance for the German but his attempt was block by a defender. Wenger replaced the Ox with Aaron Ramsey and the home side almost made it three when Cazorla’s dipping shot was saved by the goalie.
Late on, Giroud and Cazorla were replaced by Francis Coquelin and Le Forehead. The final whistle ensured that Arsenal had kept secured a knock out phase berth as well as a befitting clean sheet to cap up a great night. There were lots of positives as well, ranging from Giroud’s assists, an improved defensive performance and the cohesion in attack.
Szczesny (7.0) made that vital interception to shove off the major threat Montpellier posed.
Sagna (8.0) swung in so many good crosses of immense quality and was a live-wire with the ball at his feet.
Vermaelen (7.0) made some encouraging runs forward and played a role in the first goal.
Koscielny (7.0) was steady in defense and was unfortunate not to score Arsenal’s opening goal.
Mertesacker (7.0) didn’t put a wrong foot all game long.
Arteta (7.5) was combative in midfield and made a lot of vital interceptions to break up opposition play.
Wilshere (7.5) scored a well-taken goal.
Cazorla (8.0) was ubiquitous in midfield and supported the attack superbly.
Ox (7.5) was direct in his approach and ran at the opposition defense with confidence.
Podolski (8.0) slammed in a thunderous volley.
Giroud (8.0) put his former employers to the sword with two assists to his teammates.
Ramsey (7.0) didn’t do half bad.
Le Coq and Le Forehead didn’t play long enough to have Gooner Daily ratings.
The news of the other game in Germany was like music to the ears of every Arsenal fan because it meant that the Gunners were going to play another dead rubber fixture against Olympiakos in Athens, like the previous visits, knowing that qualification has been done and dusted.
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