Montpellier vow to make it ‘hell’ for Arsenal tonight... We’ll see
French champions talk the talk, but Gunners can expect to launch European campaign with a win
MONTPELLIER coach Rene Girard has told Arsenal they can expect a trip to “hell” when the Gunners run out at the Stade de la Mosson tonight for their Champions League opener.
Despite the fact the reigning French champions have endured a shocking start to the 2012-13 season, winning just once in their first five games, Girard is calling on the club’s fans to get behind their boys.
“This season we've had some bad moments, and we need the fans to help us turn the stadium into hell for Arsenal,” declared Girard ahead of tonight’s clash with one of Europe's most illustrious clubs.
On paper Arsenal should have little trouble in beginning their Group B campaign with a win. Unbeaten in the Premier League this season, the Gunners are appearing in the group phase of the Champions League for the 15th consecutive season.
In contrast Montpellier are making their bow in the competition, but at a time when morale at the club is dangerously low after winning only one of their first five games of the new season.
Amid talk of dressing-room disputes and strong words from the club president, coach Girard has spent the last couple of days reminding his players what’s at stake tonight.
“It's a huge thing to be among the best 32 European teams. I know that everyone is wondering how we'll avoid getting beaten… but I'm sure that we'll show up,” he explained to reporters. “The objective today is to play an exceptional match. You don't play Arsenal every day, especially not in the Champions League.”
If Montpellier are to have any chance of getting a result against Arsenal then they’ll need to tighten up their defence.
In winning the French title last season, the Mediterranean club conceded just 34 goals in 38 matches; this season they’ve leaked eight in their first five. "Our defence hasn't exactly been the Berlin Wall of late,” admitted Girard, “but this match will force every individual in the team to raise their level."
Arsenal, on the other hand, have the meanest defence in the English top-flight this season with Southampton the only side to score a goal against the Gunners in four games. And the Arsenal strike force is now coming into its own after a slow start to the season, with eight goals in the last two matches.
The one glitch is the form of striker Olivier Giroud, who left Montpellier for Arsenal this summer and is still searching for his first goal for his new club. What are the odds he breaks his duck tonight, if Arsene Wenger plays him?
If he does, Girard won’t begrudge him a goal. "Olivier Giroud left only good memories,” said Girard. “He worked hard for the club and I think the fans will welcome him as they should. But just a little hello and a little wave, and then we'll get down to business."
In tonight’s other Champions League tie involving an English club, Manchester City face the daunting prospect of taking on Real Madrid in Group D at the Bernabeu Stadium. Neither City nor Real have had the slickest of starts to the new season with the Spanish giants – nine times champions of Europe – winning just once in their first four games of La Liga.
Last season City failed to make it out of the group stage of the Champions League, and they’ll have to be at their best this time around to progress from a pool that also contains Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
But manager Roberto Mancini believes last season will stand them in good stead. “It was a good experience last year,” he said. “We played well in a good group but it wasn’t enough — even though we had 10 points.”
Asked if he would be content to leave Spain with a draw, Mancini replied: “A draw could be a good result but our mentality is not to defend, we don’t have that mentality. If you want to do well, you have to attack very well.”