Jack Wilshere scores as Arsenal victory secures place in last 16
Wilshere and Podolski take goals created by Olivier Giroud in comfortable win over Montpellier
Arsenal 2 Montpellier 0. Arsenal despatched Montpellier without too much bother last night to ensure their passage into the Champions League knockout phase for the 13th consecutive season. Second-half goals from Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski secured the three points for the Gunners which, together with Schalke's defeat of Olympiakos in the group's other tie, guaranteed Arsenal qualification to the last 16.
But manager Arsene Wenger later declared it his intention to finish first, above German club Schalke, when the group stage reaches its climax in a fortnight's time. "We will play to win, to finish top of the group," said Wenger. "We will try to win at Olympiakos and Montpellier can beat Schalke at home. We will take a full-strength team."
If Arsenal are to beat Olympiakos in Greece – something they failed to do last season when the two sides met – they'll have to play better than they did in the first-half last night. A strangely subdued Arsenal, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making his first start since early October, struggled to impose themselves against their visitors. Laurent Koscielny's header against the bar was the closest they came to scoring while Montpellier looked threatening on the counter-attack.
But that all changed in the second-half as Arsenal emerged invigorated from their dressing room. Within four minutes of the restart they were in the lead, Olivier Giroud heading the ball into the path of Jack Wilshere whose deft finish was his first goal for the club in 725 days.
Giroud was also the creator of Arsenal's second, combining brilliantly with Podolski for the German to volley home on 63 minutes. It was a goal worthy of Podolski's predecessor, Robin van Persie, and it killed off the match as a contest.
News of Schalke's home victory over Olympiakos further cheered the Arsenal faithful and though the Germans – one point clear of the Gunners at the top of Group B – should win their final game in France, Wenger declared himself delighted at the night's work.
"I'm very proud," he said. "Thirteen times in a row we [have] qualified… it's most difficult to be consistent at our level. It is a credit to the club, because it is not as easy as it looks. If you look all over Europe, there are not many teams who do it."
For Wilshere, the night was a personal triumph, confirmation that he is almost back to his best after 17 months of injury hell. One of the first people he ran to after scoring was Gary Lewin, the Arsenal physio, and he said later of his fitness: "It will come - I've never been injured before so I can't tell you how long it will take."
As for the future, and who he'd would like to meet in the next phase of the competition, Wilshire replied: "We've got to play the best teams to win it so it doesn't matter who we get."