Montpellier 1 – 2 Arsenal: Resilient Arsenal keep Montpellier at bay

Montpellier 1 – 2 Arsenal (Belhanda (pen) 9, Podolski 16, Gervinho 18)
Match Report | Highlights | Steve Bould’s reaction

There was less rotation than we anticipated…
I suspect there a few major factors in Arsene’s mind. First of all, the injury to Wojciech Szcesny meant that changing more of the backline any more could have resulted in real unfamiliarity. The central partnership of Mertesacker and Vermaelen has been excellent thus far, and disrupting that would be unhelpful at this stage. Lastly, I think he saw the value of getting off to a good start in the group stage, and wasn’t prepared to do anything to jeopardise that.

Arsenal were a bit impetuous early on…
Abou Diaby got himself booked after just twenty-one seconds, and their was an edginess about us in the early part of the game. It came from a good place; from wanting to get the game won as soon as possible. However, it almost cost us the match, with Thomas Vermaelen giving away that penalty after only nine minutes.

The penalty decision was 100% correct…
I find it slightly tiresome Arsenal fans contesting every decision that goes against them. This was a nailed on penalty: Vermaelen failed to get the ball, took down the man, inside the box. Simple. Our complaints are made all the more silly by the fact that many other referees would have punished us with the award of a second penalty right at the end of the game after Abou Diaby hung a leg out in our own box. As for Vermaelen, this was a little sign of his immaturity as a defender: he will learn that the conservative option of shepherding his man is often safer then diving in to a well-intentioned tackle.

Going behind was a test…
We had not been in that position thus far, and I wondered about the psychological ramifications. Our response, however, was fantastic.

Podolski is an unerring finisher…
Speaking after the game, Steve Bould said:

“Podolski has made a real impact. I have to say, I’ve not seen many finishers as good as him – ever.”

Big words from a man who played alongside the likes of Ian Wright. On the early evidence, however, it’s easy to understand why Bould was impressed. Last night, he was calm enough to take a tough, dummy the keeper, and slot home. What I thought last night was this: it is hard to think of a presentable chance he has missed. Long may that continue.

Jenkinson is improving fast…
I’ve long banged the drum about how Carl Jenkinson is the club’s best crosser, and his assist for Gervinho won’t have me putting my drum down anytime soon. His all-round play continues to improve, and his fitness levels are astonishing. His dad was a distance runner, and I’m told that he’s possibly the best stamina athlete at the club too. I thought Arsene might field Coquelin in Sagna’s absence, but his decision to go with Jenkinson has thus far been hugely vindicated.

Giroud was better than lazy pundits would have you believe…
As Giroud was subbed off for Aaron Ramsey after 75 minutes, Alan Smith called it “a night to forget” for the Frenchman. I’m not sure I agree: he was involved in the moves both for goals, provided an assist for Podolski, and worked hard throughout the game. We will need him this season; he gives us shape and a focal point. Playing with a guy like Gervinho at number nine is all very well when you control possession, but sometimes we’ll need to deploy a player who can win it in the air and hold the ball up. Giroud is that man.

The second half was all Montpellier…
Their manager has since admitted that their second half display was the best form they have shown this season. Finally, we saw why they were French champions last year. They played with real tempo and verve, whilst we looked leggy. I found it hard to understand why we didn’t make more changes earlier, but perhaps Steve Bould was loathe to make subs without Arsene’s say-so.

All in all, this was a good night…
The performance wasn’t at the same level as Southampton and Liverpool, but the result is very good indeed. There are no new injuries and our confidence is unharmed. Now the players need to rest up before a massive test on Sunday.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.