Montpellier 1 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Belhanda (9 pen)
1 – 1 Podolski (16)
1 – 2 Gervinho (18)
Two quickfire goals early in the game were enough to give Arsenal a deserved but hard-fought victory. A flowing first half performance gave way for a lethargic cousin in the second as Montpellier offered some semblance of reason why they were French champions last season. As it is, three points is all that matters and alphabetical order puts Arsenal top.
The initiation rites for new players come with a karaoke backing; for Steve Bould, his managerial apprenticeship got off to a tough start with booking for Abou Diaby inside thirty seconds, apparently equally the fastest caution in Champions League history. Does Gilberto still hold the record the fastest goal? That would some sort of double to claim.
It got worse eight minutes later with a needlessly conceded penalty. Thomas Vermaelen offering proof the adage ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’. Quite why the Belgian felt the necessity to make a challenge on the edge of the area is unknown; the consequences as anticipated. Belhanda adopted the Pirlo style copied from Panenka in Czechoslovakia’s 1976 European Championship final. At some point, a goalkeeper is going to make a Gary Lineker of the taker; to think that wingnut might have been England’s top international goalscorer but for a moment of ego against Brazil at Wembley.
As it is Mannone looked suitably peeved with the knowledge that a slower descent to earth would have given him a chance of saving the spot-kick. For Arsenal it was virgin territory this season; recovering a goal deficit. And to be fair to the players, they set about doing so with some aplomb. Passes were pinged between colleagues but this was not tippy-tappy, there is a previously unseen directness about Arsenal this season and Montpellier’s lead was short-lived. Giroud returning to his previous club, prodded Cazorla’s pass into the path of Podolski and the German’s finish was unerring.
Two minutes later and Saturday’s dynamic duo were back in tandem. Gervinho picked the ball up on the right, wriggled and shimmied and continued his run to meet Jenkinson’s cross in the middle of the six yard area. The deficit overturned and at this point, not so much a question of the Arsenal win but by how many.
In truth Arsenal were quite happy to control the remainder of the first half without offering specific threats until near the interval. They didn’t need to; Cabella brought a save from Mannone but Montpellier played as if all confidence had been shorn from their being. As the referee was thinking of pursing his lips around the Acme Thunderer, Gervinho and Giroud spurned the chance to increase the lead.
Those misses were almost instantly regretted as the second half began with the livewire Cabella robbed a dithering Diaby in the Arsenal area but blazing high and wide when composure was needed. That was shown as his impudent chip found the crossbar later on before the same rush of blood fired the rebound – you’re way ahead of me – high and wide. Montpellier could not take their chances and were almost made to pay as Diaby foraged forward to allow Cazorla to let fly. Saturday’s comedy of errors almost continued as the home defence managed to ricochet the ball following Jourden’s save.
The French side’s propensity to fall theatrically to the floor under any challenge cost them dearly as the match drew to a close. There was a clear push from Diaby in the area but the referee had long tired of these antics, disparaging the hosts claims for another spot kick.
Overall, the result is all that matters. We have seen over the years enough Arsenal defeats where the performances merited victory by some measure; winning ugly is something rather new to get used to (again). The manner of victory seems to have wrankled with criticism in some quarter – winning with style is now the new bugbear. Sigh.
I understand why some players would perhaps have benefitted from an earlier departure to the bench but by the same token, we do not play another game until Sunday so there is an extra day’s rest than might normally be expected. The ends justifies the means with no reported injuries at the moment, who is to say that this was wrong.
Now we look forward to City match.