First game of group stage of Champions League done and 3 points gained. Away trip to in the first game and we came back with a victory. It wasn’t our best performance of the season thus far but it was sufficient for us to match the other team in our group who have won their match. After Match Day 1, Shalke and us share the lead with both edging out similar away wins.
In certain parts of the match, it was evident why Montpellier emerged as champions of Ligue 1 last season. They were relentless in pursuit to find the equaliser as they chased after every ball and closed us down quickly whenever we had possession. Yet, the difference between both teams is marked. Whenever we step up a gear, the home side couldn’t cope and that’s how we got our goals.
The referee was keen to set an early example and Abou Diaby, back after one game absence, was booked for going in slightly high in a tackle. In some ways, you could say that the early booking meant the game was to be played in good spirits with neither side committing dangerous tackles and it was a clean, good game. Yet, when the referee takes leniency on Remy Cabella for his consistent diving, then something doesn’t add up.
However, it was the only early punishment that the referee meted out on us. Thomas Vermaelen was adjudged to have tripped Younes Belhanda inside the box and the penalty was awarded. If it is something which the assistant referee behind the goal said in his microphone to the referee then I can accept it. What I did see what that neither the linesman or the assistant referee, who are both closer and facing the incident, seemed to signal for anything. Which is what makes the referee’s decision, who was further away from the incident, seemed rather harsh. Belhanda picked himself up and nonchalantly chip the ball in and Vito Mannone had to pick the ball up from the net before he even had anything else to do.
Conceding the shock opener when we were on the front foot since the opening whistle seemed to spur us on. Scores were level within 7 minutes. Olivier Giroud, returning to the ground where he celebrated a goal or two (definitely more), flicked a first time pass to Lukas Podolski. That set the German free just before the penalty spot. A dummy before choosing his spot, Podolski scored his third goal in as many games.
Just 2 minutes later, we scored what turned out to be the winning goal. This time, the ball broke to Carl Jenkinson on the right and he delivered the inch perfect low cross for Gervinho to snatch his third goal in 2 games. The delivery had just enough pace and well placed between the defenders and Jourdren in the Montpelllier goal. The Ivorian wasn’t going to missed from there, good contact with the ball meant that it was going in even though the keeper managed to get a touch on it.
Quick and incisive. When we step up our game, Montpellier were all over the pace. It wasn’t only the accuracy of our passing and movement. It was also the pace in which we whizzed the ball around that created the openings for us. When we did that, Montpellier found it hard to keep up and when we slowed the pace down, we allowed the home side back into the game. Had we maintained our rhythm in the second half, we would have won this game easily. But that didn’t happened. Probably because the players had half a mind on the game this Sunday.
Buoyed by the volumes of support from their home crowd, Montpellier came out all guns blazing in the second half. Belhanda and especially Cabella were causing us all sorts of trouble with their trickery on the ball. Twice they managed to get past us. Once when Per Mertesacker and Vermaelen weren’t assertive enough in their defending and once when Diaby figured it was a good option to dribble around in our own penalty box. Otherwise, we defended well and kept them at bay. They had 4 shots on target but that Belhanda one apart, most of the shots didn’t cause too much discomfort for Mannone.
Steve Bould won his first game being the big head on the bench and you’ve got to feel well pleased for him though, there’s no denying that Arsene Wenger also did his part to prep the team beforehand. Bould says that lethargy played a big part in how we dropped in performance in the second half and just couldn’t keep the ball long enough to do anything. Point taken, though perhaps we should made a few more changes to the team. That said, we were mindful of Montpellier’s qualities and that could be why we fielded an almost unchanged side.
This will not go down as one of our best performance of the season but we did just enough to garner all 3 points. At the end of the day, that is what is required to progress past the group stage. Onwards we go.