Montpellier 1-2 Arsenal : Gunners hold out for opening Champions League win
Arsenal came from behind to secure an unconvincing win against Montpellier in their opening Champions League game last night.
The French champions took the lead early on through Younès Belhanda’s dinked penalty after Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen brought down the Montpellier star on the edge of the box.
The Gunners soon turned the game on its head though, with two goals in two minutes as Lukas Podolski and then Gervinho both netted to make it 2-1 at the break.
Montpellier dominated for large spells of the second half, but could not find the equaliser which their play deserved, thanks to a combination of poor finishing and solid Arsenal defending.
It means that Arsene Wenger’s side lie top of Group B, level on points with Schalke, who beat Olympiakos 2-1.
Going into the game at the Stade de la Mosson, Arsenal boasted an impressive unbeaten record against Ligue 1 sides in European competition.
That record looked under threat as early as the ninth minute when Vermaelen clumsily tackled Belhanda and the midfielder picked himself up to score a cheeky “Panenka” straight down the middle of Vito Mannone’s goal.
That provoked Arsenal into action, with the Gunners quickly getting back on level terms thanks to Podolski’s third goal in as many games.
The move started with Abou Diaby who found Santi Cazorla in space before the Spanish star turned and fed Olivier Giroud on the edge of the box. The former Montpellier striker then laid the ball off first time to Podolski, who made no mistake from 12 yards to make it 1-1.
Arsenal did not have to wait long for their second goal as Carl Jenkinson found a resurgent Gervinho with an excellent low cross and the Ivory Coast forward finished from close range.
It looked like the north Londoners would then go on to see the game out comfortably, but Montpellier looked a different side after the break.
The French side should have equalised when Diaby was caught in possession in his own area, with the midfielder grateful to see Remi Cabella’s fly high and wide past the post.
Cabella then hit the bar with a delicate chip before Belhanda missed Montpellier’s best chance of the half late on when he somehow shot straight at Mannone from just eight yards out.
Arsenal assistant manager Steve Bould, who stepped in for Wenger while the Frenchman serves a three-match touchline ban, admitted his team was flagging in the second half.
“We looked a little tired in the second half because it was very humid and the crowd got behind them. It is quite an intimidating place to come and play, so we are glad to get the result,” he said.
“We have had a decent start to the season and we have kept the run going, so it’s important all round, for the whole season.”
Laurence Taylor, football correspondent