Champions League kicks off once again today, is what we say this season. What we said last season was that it kicked-off in August, as we were playing in the qualifying round. No such problem this time around as we enter straight into the group stage, an arrangement which has enabled us to have a significantly better start to the Premier League campaign than last season.
South of France is our first European stop for the campaign and reigning Ligue 1 champions are our opponent. Montpellier is also the former club for our new signing, Olivier Giroud. His ex team mates remember him fondly as his goalscoring exploits helped propelled them to the league title. However, meeting up with an old friend is the least of the worries on their minds. The French champions should be more preoccupied with what’s in store for them in the game proper.
Montpellier has not have the best of starts to retaining their title. They have already lost 3 of the 5 games that they have played thus far and are sitting lowly in 16th place. That said, they have already scored 6 goals which is slightly over a goal a game for them thus far. Fair to say, they do have the attacking qualities that we need to be wary of. Most likely that is lead by the industrious Younes Belhanda, the skilful playmaker in their ranks. Keep him quiet and we might start another run of clean sheets.
Standing between the post and tasked with the job of preventing Montpellier from scoring, will be Vito Mannone. The Italian comes back into the starting line-up as Wojciech Szczesny missed out of the trip due to an injury. Apparently Szczesny picked up something during the warm-up for the Southampton game but we did not pulled him out of the game. Some may term that as negligence. It’s not as if we have a raw understudy on the bench. Mannone has already shown in the previous two games prior to last weekend, that he is capable to perform is called upon.
However, Mannone is unlikely to be the only change made to this Arsenal side. As we’ve got the trip up to the Etihad Stadium this weekend, Arsene Wenger might be looking to give some players a breather and make full use of the squad depth that we seemed to have now. Then again, the manager might be thinking that it’s only the 5th game of our season and there’s little chance that the players will burn out. In some respect, I can agree with that. The fatigue would not be for this weekend’s game but rather later on in the season. It’s a difficult balancing act and that is why Wenger has the job and not me.
I’m expecting us to make a couple of changes but not a wholesale one. Players who have played a lot last season but has failed to appear much for this season, due to injury or the arrival of new players. Laurent Koscielny is almost certain to be playing. His knowledge of the French league would be an advantage, plus he needs the match sharpness. Having been a ever present member of the squad last 2 seasons, it must be strange for him to be on the bench.
Theo Walcott is another but there’s a lot of talk that this period that he is experiencing watching the game from the bench is due more to his contract concerns than his footballing side. While it might have played a part and the management is proving to him that he doesn’t dictate the terms, it is also hard to back him up on the other aspect. Lukas Podolski has come in and made the left side attack his own. That leaves the right open and at this point, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a better option that Walcott. However, against Montpellier, it might be worth a try to give Walcott a go.
Abou Diaby, Andre Santos and Giroud completes the other changes I’m expecting the manager to make. Diaby will finally get to play on French soil this season after missing out on France’s last international. While Santos makes his belated start to the season after spending most of the time worrying about his driving capabilities. As for Giroud, hopefully the return to a familiar ground will spark him into action and he will be able to contribute to the team. Goals or otherwise.
If we do end up struggling, the decision making will fall on Steve Bould to make the right changes. The newly promoted assistant manager will take charge for the first 3 Champions League matches as Wenger is suspended after his remarks about the referee in our exit last season. I’m sure there will be instruction handed down before hand, that is devised based on separate scenarios. It would be a miracle if everything is covered within those instructions. Bould will probably have a guideline to follow but football matches are not a fixed thing (not in most games any way) and as such, it would be a big test of his ability to handle such situations. Perhaps we can consider this a small audition for the manager’s role.
All the best to the lads and Bould then. Up The Arsenal!!!