Match Report: Arsenal 2- 0 Montpellier: Jack is really back
Arsenal qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Montpellier at the Emirates. Though the Gunners are not assured top spot in the group, they were able to top off a good weekend performance with another one of domination and assurance.
Wenger named almost the same team that started against Spurs, with Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Theo as the only change. Montpellier were not so fortunate as they lost striker Camara to injury. Charbonnier came into the team upfront. Captain Yanga- Mbiwa was pushed into defensive midfield from his usual centre back role.
Both teams started off with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but Montpellier’s midfield duo of Estrada and Yanga-Mbiwa were playing much deeper than their counterparts.
Arsenal, in recent games, have made very tentative starts with misplaced passes and mistimed tackles, and the trend continued in this game. The Gunners were not able to stabilize for the first 15 minutes and were pressed back by the French champions. Jack Wilshere particularly did not have the best of starts to the game, as the No.10 continuously misplaced his passes at the heart of midfield.
Yanga- Mbiwa promoted to midfield, unsettles the Gunners
This start was mainly due to the presence of Yanga-Mbiwa in midfield. Montpellier’s best player was again stating his case with very strong tackling and play breaking up tactics. He was able to dominate out the duo of Cazorla and Wilshere initially and was also allowed to instigate the attacks. Here credit needs to be given to Rene Girard’s tactics of playing his captain alongside Estrada, as he was able to sit back and distribute when Mbiwa would break-up play and then take the ball ahead.
This tactic though unsettled Arsenal initially, but a midfield with the likes of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla can’t be easily dominated. Santi Cazorla, again one of the stars of the show, easily drifted into wider positions to avoid Mbiwa, and this provided Wilshere the space to run through the centre.
Wilshere takes hold of midfield, Arsenal dominate the left
From then on it was the Jack Wilshere show. Though the 20-year-old was suffering initially, the Englishman turned the game on its head with his sudden bursts of speed. His traditional move of turning away from the opposition player and then gliding through the midfield was prominently visible, and the likes of Estrada and Mbiwa stood no chance now.
Wilshere, not having played much with the new signings, took some time to settle into Podolski’s wavelength. A few astray passes later, Wilshere again found his rhythm on the left, as Arsenal crowded out the left with the likes of Vermaelen and Cazorla also bombarding this wing.
Montpellier’s 21 year old Cabella was the star last time, but the Frenchman spent most of the game near the halfway line this time around. Vermaelen was able to overlap with ease, and though the Belgian was not as authoritative as Gibbs, it was his cross to Giroud that led to the first goal.
Arteta outplays Belhanda, Koscielny is Arsenal’s best defender
While Wilshere and Podolski might have created most of the chances upfront, the game was won in the midfield battle of Arteta and Belhalda. Arteta has often been outrun and dribbled past by the opposition No.10 in recent games, but the Spaniard had a perfect game against Younis Belhalda. Belhalda, last season’s star with Olivier Giroud, was not given any time to settle. He was constantly marked by Arteta off the ball, and the Spaniard was always able to put in a legitimate tackle before Belhalda received the ball.
Belhanda was able to release the likes of Cabella and Mounnier in the first leg, but all this was restricted here mainly due to Arteta’s contribution.
Credit also needs to given to the Arsenal back 2 of Mertersacker and Koscielny. Though Charbonnier will not be the toughest of strikers that the duo will face this season, the tall striker proves a handful in the French League. But here he was dominated by the performance of the enterprising Laurent Koscienly. Apart from Wilshere, it would be the Frenchman who was the best player in the night. His calm sense of reading the play and total control on the ball while surging forward is what was missing in Thomas Vermaelen’s performances till now. This partnership of Mertersacker and Koscienly seems to be the correct one for the Gunners, and now the return of Kieran Gibbs might signal some time on the bench for Arsenal’s captain.
The substitutions barely affected the game much as the match was won by Arsenal long before. Ramsey coming on for the tiring and unfit Chamberlain brought much more possession and dominance in the centre of midfield. Cazorla now shifted out to the left flank with Podolski going to the right. Podolski had an impressive outing finally, after being criticized in recent games. The German was much more willing to make runs behind the full back, instead of his usual in-field central presence. Podolski has always been known for a thunderous left foot, and though he might not have the finesse and curl of a certain Dutchman, his volley for the 2nd goal was right amongst the best of finishes.
It was important for Arsenal to continue their good form tonight. Wenger will want Wilshere on the score-sheets much more even though he insists that Jack is a much more ‘complete’ midfielder than a scoring one.
Montpellier have finished a disappointing campaign in their rare Champions League opportunity and their current league position shows that they might not get another bite in the near future. The only favour that Girard’s team can now do for Arsenal would be to pose Schalke a threat in the final game of the group in France.
Top of the match: Jack Wilshere
Flop of the match: Mathieu Deplange