Arsenal lay claim to the top of group B in opening Champions League clash

September 20, 2012 in Competitions, Europe, Premier League by Lizzi Hollis

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When Arsenal were drawn in group B alongside Montpellier, Olympiakos and Schalke in the Champions League Arsenal fans and players alike (except maybe Oliver Giroud – more on him later)  sighed in relief that for six games at least we wouldn’t have to face the European beast-like teams of Barcelona, Real Madrid or AC Milan.

With game number one away to Montpellier the question on everyone’s lips was “Will Oliver Giroud score his vital first goal for Arsenal in front of his former home crowd?” I won’t keep you in suspense, the answer is no. As an Arsenal fan I was hoping he would punish his former club and end a string of comments about him being the ‘New Chamakh’ but it wasn’t to be in a performance for Arsenal , which although ended in them scooping up the three points, was rather lacklustre.

It wasn’t a good omen for the game when 21 second in Abu Diaby found himself written up in the referee’s book for a reckless tackle on Estrada. Then nine minutes in a tackle by Vermaelen on Montpellier midfielder Belhandra resulted in a penalty kick. I’m still questioning whether the challenge was actually made inside the box, but either way the Belhandra tickled the ball into the back of the net and Montpellier were leading a goal to nil and I had my head in my hands.

However the Montpellier defence could not keep Arsenal at bay for long and 16 minutes in a deft and confident shot from Lukas Podolski brought Arsenal equal with the French champions and saw the German net his third goal of the season. In what was a frenzied couple of minutes Gervinho found the net for a second time and the Gunners came from a losing position to put the game to bed at 2-1.

Although I am ecstatically happy to see my boys take away the three points so early on in the competition, not to mention being five games unbeaten in all competitions this season it was a fairly disappointing performance on Arsenal’s part. Apart from one or two obvious exceptions  e.g. Lukas Podolski, about whom Steve Bould gushed that he’d “not seen some many finishers as good as him, ever”. However Oliver Giroud could not break his scoring stalemate and gave an unenthusiastic performance that saw him substituted for an equally dull Aaron Ramsey at 75 minutes. But he wasn’t alone in this average performance and apart from some fizz in the first half and hard work from Cazorla and Diaby the rest of the team just seemed flat, especially in the second half.

Montpellier could easy have taken the lead and when Remy Cabella had a second half surge and was unlucky to only strike the cross-bar saving Arsenal from finding themselves level pegging with a team who looked threatening throughout the game. If a late penalty call by Cabella after a tackle from Diaby in the closing minutes of the game had been accepted it is more than likely Arsenal would have walked away from this game with only point.

I’m sure Arsene Wenger is anxious for his three game ban to be over without any serious incident to Arsenal’s qualification chances, but for the time being Steve Bould will have to up his game. He may have worked wonders in training and improved Arsenal’s league performances (especially defensively) but this average performance has highlighted why he is Robin, not Batman.