Lukas Podolski and Gervinho give Arsenal 2-1 victory - just
With Wenger banned from touchline, Gunners make hard work of their night in Montpellier
MONTPELLIER 1 Arsenal 2. In the end it was harder than Arsenal expected but the Gunners still left the south of France with a win to launch their 15th successive Champions League campaign in perfect style.
Montpellier are the new boys of Group B, savouring their first taste of Champions League football, and with only one win in their first five league outings this season, the unfashionable French club weren’t expected to provide much resistance. Fat chance.
Within nine minutes the hosts were a goal to the good after Thomas Vermaelen’s rash challenge on Younes Belhanda led to a penalty. Betraying no sign of nerves on what was arguably the biggest night of his club’s short history, Belhanda chipped Vito Mannone from the spot to leave Arsenal trailing.
Arsene Wenger could do nothing but look down from his seat in the stand and wish he was on the touchline. But with the Arsenal manager serving a UEFA ban for an incident in last season’s tournament it was left to the Frenchman’s assistant, Steve Bould, to call the shots from the sidelines.
Not that he had much influence on what followed. Instead it was the Arsenal players who dragged themselves back into the match with two goals in the space of three minutes. A neat interchange of passes on the edge of the Montpellier area between Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud put Lukas Podolski into space and the German calmly controlled the ball before glancing up and sliding the ball past goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren for the equaliser.
Two minutes later the Gunners were ahead. Gervinho, still buzzing after scoring twice against Southampton at the weekend, started and ended the move, and in between Carl Jenkinson picked out his Ivorian teammate with a sweet cross from the right.
As Gervinho ran off to celebrate Montpellier looked stunned, and coach Rene Girard raged at his team from the touchline. Arsenal, it seemed, were about to run riot.
But having the lead inhibited Arsenal and in the second half the Gunners were forced to cling grimly to their one-goal advantage. Frankly Montpellier could have had three or four goals, if only their composure had matched their creativity.
Remi Cabella fired high and wide from point blank range and then his audacious chip rattled the crossbar. As for Belhanda, he won’t have slept a wink last night wondering how it was he missed a sitter ten minutes from time. There was even a late penalty shout from the French side as the impressive Cabella went down under the tired challenge of Diaby. Play on, waved the referee, and Arsenal did, somehow surviving the onslaught to emerge with three points.
“It was difficult,” Steve Bould admitted later. “I thought we were excellent in the first half…[but] the second half was tough and we looked physically a little bit tired. The crowd got right behind them and it is quite an intimidating place to come and play, so we’re glad to get the result.”
Asked if he’d enjoyed deputising for Wenger, Bould replied: “I’m not sure I enjoyed it, I’ve got a headache and a half! It is tough. It’s a different pressure than I’ve been used to.”
There'll be plenty more pressure to come for Bould with Wenger banned for the Gunners’ next two Champions League matches. Next up for Arsenal are Greek side Olympiakos, who lost 2-1 at home last night to Schalke O4.