Montpellier 1 Arsenal 2: match report

Read a full match report of the Champions League Group B match between Montpellier and Arsenal at Stade de la Mosson on Tuesday Sept 18 2012.

Bould on the touchline but, at times, not so bold on the pitch. Arsenal opened their 15th successive Champions League campaign with two counterpunches of attacking power as they made their move in Group B.

Not that they weren’t on the ropes themselves. Defensive lapses, and a whirlwind of desire and adrenalin from the home side and their supporters, meant this bout turned into one where they had to roll with the blows. But Arsenal held on, with goals from Lukas Podolski and Gervinho confirming their win.

In the cold light of day, this was an excellent result. Montpellier, in their first campaign in this competition, were almost whipped into a frenzy of endeavour and the wall of sound cascading from the stands in this evocative stadium was, on occasions, overpowering.

Arsène Wenger was in those stands himself — exiled from the dugout because of another Uefa ban, this time for the opening three group games, his third sanction in 12 months – and he will have shifted uncomfortably as his team were pushed back in a second half which saw the French side snatch at chance after chance.

Still, this Arsenal defence has been emboldened by Bould and stood firm with the former defender — now Wenger’s assistant — cajoling them from the touchline in what was his first match in charge of any senior game of football. Not a bad baptism.

“I’m not sure about that,” Bould said when asked if he had enjoyed the responsibility. “I’ve got a headache and a half at the minute. It’s tough but, listen, we’ve won and got a great result. In the first-half we were excellent and kept the crowd quiet but the second-half was tough.”

Wenger has now had nine ties against French teams on French soil without defeat — six wins and three draws — but it could have been different had Montpellier showed the same degree of composure as they did effort, with their playmaker Younes Belhanda living up to his dangerous billing as the man who could hurt Arsenal. He often did.

For Olivier Giroud there was a happy homecoming — the former Montpellier striker was granted his wish of starting this match as he returned to the club he helped, with his 21 league goals, to drive to their first French title last season. He was heavily involved in both Arsenal goals but, in truth, never came close himself to opening his scoring account for his new employers, whom he joined for £12 million.

Wenger had warned that Montpellier’s wretched domestic form — three league losses — was a product of last season’s successes and the anticipation of playing in this competition.

Certainly, they started at a pace and with an intent that betrayed no lack of confidence or cohesion. It helped that they were given such an early boost, with Thomas Vermaelen diving in on Belhanda close to the edge of the penalty area. Arsenal protested it was outside; the official behind the goal correctly advised the referee it was inside and Belhanda took the penalty with panache and with a ‘Panenka’ kick, chipping into the centre as goalkeeper Vito Mannone attempted to check his dive.

The crowd loved it. But there was real character in Arsenal’s rapid response. A superb build-up involving Abou Diaby and Santi Carzola led to Giroud slipping a first-time pass to the onrushing Podolski, who steadied himself and side-footed home for his third goal in as many games, a strike which momentarily quelled the home support.

Those raucous fans were immediately knocked back further by another slick, incisive passing move from Arsenal, with Carl Jenkinson released down the right and Giroud involved once more, to sweep in a low cross which was met by Gervinho, turning the ball in and brilliantly turning the tie on its head.

It was breathtaking stuff and it took time for Montpellier to steady themselves. But they were boosted when, Diaby ridiculously attempted to play himself out of trouble inside his own area and was dispossessed. Rémy Cabella had the chance, but he blasted over. A volley from Anthony Mounier was blocked and then Garry Bocaly volleyed over before Mounier, again, stabbed at the ball.

Montpellier went even closer. This time Cabella checked and, with Mannone caught forward, he chipped against the bar. It was a let-off and Arsenal responded with a rapid attack from Diaby, leading to Geoffrey Jourdren beating out Carzola’s effort.

As dominant as they had been in the first-half, Arsenal were now back-pedalling. Surely Belhanda would capitalise? The ball was cut back to him, he side-stepped Per Mertesacker’s challenge but shot straight at Mannone. What a miss. And what a let-off. “We’ve got a great team spirit and I think that was evident tonight,” said Bould. It was.

Team details

Montpellier: Jourdren, Bocaly, Yanga M’Biwa, Hilton, Bedimo, Estrada (Herrera 78), Saihi, Mounier (Ait-Fana 67), Belhanda, Cabella, Camara (Stambouli 78). Subs: Pionnier, Marveaux, Congre, Jeunechamp. Booked: Yanga M’Biwa, Belhanda. Goals: Belhanda 9 pen.

Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Diaby, Arteta, Gervinho, Cazorla (Coquelin 90), Podolski (Walcott 90), Giroud (Ramsey 76). Subs: Shea, Koscielny, Andre Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain. Booked: Diaby. Goals: Podolski 16, Gervinho 18.

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