Thursday, September 20, 2012

Montpellier 1 Arsenal 2

Our first reaction to the game immediately after the final whistle was a relief. Arsenal's second-half display was too hairy for our comfort. It made a very nervy viewing for us.

After the match, pundits and fans' views were split, depending on how they looked at Arsenal's defensive performance and which half of the game they looked at. Opionions tend to be formed centring around the second half of the game as it makes more fresher impressions on people's mind.

Arsenal were impressive in the first half, apart from Vermaelen's "unnecessary" challenge by his admission. They quickly responded to the early goal they conceded, by scoring two goals within two minutes of each other via excellent team play. Arsenal kept the game under control for the remaining of the first half.

However, the second half was a totally different story. Vermaelen admitted that they were not at their best in the latter half of the game. Tony Adams said Arsenal were lucky and he was not convinced with the Arsenal defence. On the other hand, a section of Arsenal fans claim that Arsenal defended well. We agree with the Arsenal legend. We were lucky as Cabella's effort hit the woodwork, Belhanda only managed a tame shot at Mannone in a golden opportunity, Mannone made some outstanding saves and Diaby escaped another yellow card and a penalty. Our defence looked far from solid in the second half, we were always second to the 50/50 ball and our passing was not as accurate as usual (although stats show our passing success rate was right in our standard range of 84.5%). However, it is also true that it is a champions' trait that they grind out results when they cannot play well as some fans say. And we have done just that.

Another point that splits views was whether Arsenal tried to save themselves for the upcoming Premier League match against Manchester City and decided to sit back and concentrate on protecting the one-goal lead. We have noticed Gervinho's abrupt halts to his surging runs in the final third and his inhibition to carry the ball higher on the pitch. We thought he might have been struggling with a knock, but as he completed 90 minutes and Steve Bould said after the match that everybody was OK, it may have been a team tactic. Some fans praise Arsenal for doing just enough to get the result, but it was still disappointing to see Arsenal on the backfoot and not fulfilling their potential following their superb performances in the previous two games against Liverpool and Southampton, which looked like a sign of some consistency. Also, doubt has crept in about our defence, which had been so solid this season that they had only conceded one goal prior to this match.

Another argument was whether we should have made substitutions earlier. Walcott and Coquelin were the 90th-minute substitutes. Diaby's fatigue was obvious. He should have been replaced earlier, which could have saved the controversy about Montpellier's penalty claim.

Whether we held on to the narrow lead thanks to luck or our resolute defending, the one thing is certain that coming away with three points from the hostile ground was a great result and excellent start to the new Champions League season. In this competition, home wins are imperative and any away win is a massive  advantage. The results of the English clubs' first games were mixed: Man City's 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Man Utd's unconvincing 1-0 home win over Galatasaray, and Chelsea's home draw against Juventus after squandering a 2-0 lead. I'd happily take a lucky 2-1 away win any day of the week.

Arsenal's credentials as title contenders will under a scrutiny this weekend, when they face one of their title rivals for the first time this season. Let's hope everybody gets a good rest before the match and turns up fresh and sharp at the match on Sunday because nothing less than 100% from each player would do against the reigning Premier League champions.

Player ratings

Mannone: 7
Made match-saving saves. Was he too quick to commit himself to one direction for the penalty?

Jenkinson: 7
His low cross set up Gervinho's winner.

Mertesacker: 6
Had a relatively poor game by his standards.

Vermaelen: 6
Uncharacteristic mistake from usually reliable captain.

Gibbs: 6
The left side was more exposed in this game than before.

Cazorla: 7
Faded in the second half, but did well to get to the end of Diaby's pass and make an effort.

Arteta: 8
Had a tough day, receiving rough treatment by Montpellier players.

Diaby: 6
First appearance since his injury during the international break. He looked tired in the second half and was clearly not at his best.

Gervinho: 8
Started on the right flank and scored the winner. Maintained his scintillating form.

Podolski: 8
He slotted home coolly after set free by Giroud's pass. There is no doubt about his quality. On top of his technical abilities, we like his confidence and determination to win. He says he loves one-on-one situations with the keeper. We have a great goal-scorer in him.

Giroud: 7
Set up a goal for Podolski, playing a part in Arsenal's slick attacking movement. The media are trying to make us believe that the fans are not happy with him yet to break his Arsenal duck, but as long as he contributes to the team through his work rate and gets in great positions, goals will come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, goal-scoring responsibilities can be shared among other players, such as Gervinho and Podolski. We are not worried. Besides, we paid only £13 million for the last season's Ligue 1 top scorer, not £50 million. How many months did it take for Torres to score his first goal in a Chelsea shirt? I don't know what all the fuss is about.


Ramsey: 7
75th-minute substitute for Giroud.

Theo Walcott: 6
Came on in the 90th minute for Podolski.

Coquelin: 6
Came on in the 90th minute for Cazorla.

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