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A thoroughly professional performance from an experienced Arsenal side helped them secure a hard earned 2-1 win away at the French champions Montpellier to open their UEFA Champions League campaign. The hosts took an early lead through a penalty from Younes Belhanda, but the Gunners quickly reversed the deficit with two goals inside three minutes from Lukas Podolski and Gervinho. Montpellier threw everything including the kitchen sink at Arsenal in the second half, and despite their dominance were unable to get what would have been a deserved equalizer.
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger included French striker Olivier Giroud in his starting line-up with the out of form 25-year old lining up against the side who he lead to the French crown last season. After his brace at the weekend, Gervinho was impossible to drop, hence young Englishman Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made way for the Frenchman. Abou Diaby's return to the center of the park in place of young Francis Coquelin was the only other change to the outfield players who hammered Southampton 6-1 at the weekend. Meanwhile, Vito Mannone replaced the injured again Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal, the Pole having picked up an ankle injury, and not travelling with the Gunners' squad as a result. Fifth choice keeper young James Shea was named on the bench as a back-up.
Montpellier meanwhile have had a rather torrid start to their title defence in France, and with 4 points from 5 games are in 16th place in the League table and already talking about avoiding relegation as their primary target for this season. They came into this game with absolutely nothing to lose and with a lot of players looking to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage in Europe. One man missing from their line-up was Argentine striker Emmanuel Herrera, who was left on the bench. Geoffrey Jourden was the man between the sticks for the Champions, while Hilton, Bedimo, Bocaly and the highly rated Yanga M'Biwa completed the back four. Younes Belhanda was the dangerman in the middle of the park, while Souleymane Camara was deployed as the lone striker.
Arsenal started off on the wrong foot as Diaby picked up a yellow card for his late challenge on Montpellier defender Bedimo. The Gunners dominated the proceedings right from the start as expected with Santi Cazorla being the focal point of Arsenal's attack.
Montpellier got lucky in the 10th minute when Arsenal skipper Vermaelen clumsily brought down Belhanda right on the edge of the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. Belhanda made no mistake as he chipped in the ball down the middle to give the French champions the lead. The goal buoyed Montpellier's spirit who began showing a little more confidence in their attack.
Arsenal soon regained their poise though, and Diaby's neat interplay with Cazorla put Arsenal in a commanding position with the ball ending at Giroud's feet. The Frenchman slid the ball across to Podolski for the German to tap home and cancelled out Montpellier's opener. Arsenal continued to inflict pain on their French opponents with Jenkinson playing a brilliant cross to Gervinho. The Ivorian's scuffed shot bounced past the keeper to hand Arsenal the lead in the 18th minute.
Gervinho, Cazorla and Podolski continued to spell trouble for Montpellier, stringing together a neat set of passes. Jenkinson also contributed fairly well in attack by bombing down the right wing, but Montepellier continued to keep Arsenal at bay.
Estrada made a flamboyant attempt to get his side back into the game as he unleashed a fierce 25-yard effort, but Mannone got just enough on the ball to tip it away from goal. The French side showed considerable promise going forward, but fumbled with their final ball as they struggled to find an equaliser.
Montpellier skipper's Mapou Yanga M'Biwa picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute as Montpellier grew tired of keeping out Arsenal's synchronized attempts to extend their lead. Gervinho's slaloming run two minutes from time came to nothing as Jourdren comfortably kept out the Ivorian's shot. Arsenal's last attempt of the first half saw Gibbs' cross met by Giroud, whose valiant volley flew wide of the post.
The words of manager Rene Girard appeared to have had an effect as Montpellier started the second half with renewed confidence. Diaby committed an unforgivable blunder as he attempted to trick his way past Cabella rather than just clear the danger and subsequently lost possession to the Frenchman inside his own box. Diaby though was spared the blushes as Cabella's shot flew high over the post.
Montpellier's short corner found Mounier, but Vermaelen blocked the Frenchman's attempt on goal. Bocaly also joined his teammates in an attempt to equalize but his volley barely troubled Mannone.
Montpellier continued to dominate possession and the Gunners' fans were forced to the edge of their seats when Cabella's beautiful chip from inside the box hit the crossbar and stayed out. Diaby redeemed himself after his earlier error as his through ball to Cazorla nearly paid off put Jourdren blocked the Spaniard's stinging shot.
Montpellier took off the ineffective Mounier after 68 minuted and brought out Karim Ait-Fana in the hope of finding a much needed equalizer. Diaby was lucky to still stay on the field after bringing down Belhanda with a tired challenge.
Giroud's duck for Arsenal continued as the Frenchman failed to find the net against his old club and Steve Bould pulled him off on 76 minutes to introduce Aaron Ramsey. Montpellier made a double switch a couple of minutes later, taking off Estrada and Camara and replacing them with Herrera and Stambouli in a bid to find a goal and salvage at least a point on the night.
Belhanda nearly brought the Ligue 1 champions back into the game as he cleverly moved past Mertesacker. However, the Moroccan's shot from 6 yards flew straight at Mannone, who did well to hold onto the rasping shot.
Arsenal appeared content with their narrow lead as they tried to keep out the rampaging French champions. Belhanda became the second player to enter the referee's book after a foul on Arteta. Arsenal meanwhile tried to keep possession in a bid to take 3 points from the game without a fuss.
Arsenal made a double substitution on 90 minutes, taking off Cazorla and Podolski to bring on Coquelin and Walcott. Montpellier were visibly desperate to get that equalizer as they vehemently called for a penalty when Bocaly went down after crashing into Diaby.
Despite a gritty second half from the French champions, they failed to carve open Arsenal's defence and succumbed to a 2-1 defeat in their first ever Champions League game.
Arsenal co-share the lead in Group B with German giants FC Schalke also picking up a 2-1 win on the road against Olympiakos. The teams will return to Champions League action on Wednesday, 3rd October when Arsenal play host to Olympiakos, while Montpellier are on the road to Schalke.
Montpellier: Jourdren, Bocaly, Yanga M'Biwa, Hilton, Bedimo, Estrada (Emanuel Herrera 78'), Saihi, Mounier (Karim Ait-Fana 67'), Belhanda, Cabella, Camara (Stambouli 78').
Subs: Pionnier, Marveaux, Herrera, Congre, Ait-Fana, Stambouli, Jeunechamp.
Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Diaby, Arteta, Gervinho, Cazorla (Coquelin 90'), Podolski (Walcott 90'), Giroud (Ramsey 76').
Subs: Shea, Koscielny, Andre Santos, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin.
Final Score: Montpellier 1-2 Arsenal (Belhanda 11', Podolski 16', Gervinho 18')
File Photograph Copyright: Wonker
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