Stadium: Emirates Stadium
Referee: Firat Aydinus
Kick-off: 1:15 AM IST, Thursday, 22nd of November
Last time out, Arsenal played out a 2 – 2 draw with group leaders Schalke to maintain their second position in the group, in spite of having gone 2 goals up within the first third of the match. This allowed Olympiakos, who beat Montpellier 3 – 1 to get within a point of Arsenal, and with a showdown between the two clubs in the final round of fixtures, Arsenal will hope to go in with at least that point advantage.
Montpellier, on the other hand, have been absolutely woeful this season, after having been crowned the French champions last season. With just 1 point from their four group games, they are certainly out of contention for qualification, and are likely to focus more on their league campaign, where they have been equally terrible. It is a call which Rene Girard is likely to make, and should pave the way for Arsenal to dominate the match in front of their home fans.
Arsenal: W L D D W
With all their stellar new signings including Podolski, and Giroud having finally well and truly settled into the squad, Arsenal now appear to have a sense of purpose about them. After an initial round of disappointment by a toothless attack, both domestically as well as elsewhere, Arsenal have finally clambered up to a respectable sixth spot in the league, and a reasonably good position in Europe. The weekend’s derby against Tottenham, and its result would have done more to affect the team’s morale than most of the games that preceded it.
Arsene Wenger will be happy that his team emerged victorious in the fashion that they did, with some great fluid play, and good finishing. However, the newfound problems in defence persist, and against a Montpellier side that has scored at least once in each of its last 15 competitive fixtures, he will be mentally prepared for the scenario of having to score more than what they concede. They did it in scintillating fashion over the weekend, but whether they can repeat the performance against 11 men on the pitch remains to be seen.
Montpellier: W D L D D
After finishing top of the French pile last season, narrowly ahead of PSG, Montpellier have completely fallen apart, crumbling to one poor result after another. They find themselves stuck at the bottom of group B in the Champions League, with no chance of qualification, and in 15th spot in the French league, just 2 points above the relegation zone. They will, however, take heart from the fact that the league leaders are just 11 points ahead of them; a number that is not by any means insurmountable.
The league, no doubt, will be top priority on Girard’s mind, and he is unlikely to press into action John Utaka, or Benjamin Stambouli, both of whom missed the weekend clash. One imagines that it will be a fresh looking team, comprised of fringe players looking to stake claim for a spot in the starting line-up that will take the pitch for the French champions, and understandably so. However, Montpellier have had major problems in the recent past, finishing four of their last six games with only ten men, and keeping just one clean sheet in their last ten games. That’s that, then.
Montpellier: Karim Ait Fana, Souleymane Camara, Benjamin Stambouli, John Utaka.
Santiago Cazorla vs Hilton da Silva
In spite of the strikers bagging most of the recent headlines for the Gunners, with their newfound ability to find the back of the net regularly for the London club, there are few that will argue that Cazorla has been Wenger’s genius signing of the summer transfer window. With 4 goals and 3 assists barely beginning to justify his importance to the Arsenal squad, Cazorla has been responsible for ticking over Arsenal attacks time and again. Likely to come up against 35 year old Hilton at centre back, Cazorla’s tricky feet may work much better for Arsenal than Giroud’s aerial prowess against the equally adept Brazilian defender. With a goal and an assist over the weekend, the stage is all set for Cazorla to push on, and make the fans lap him up even further.
Firat Aydinus vs The World
Few people might have taken notice, but the referee for this match, Firat Aydinus is currently bang in the middle of a huge uproar with some audacious refereeing decisions over the weekend. Officiating a match between Fenerbahce and Eskisehirspor, Aydinus first wrongly sent off a Fenerbahce defender for the use of foul language (as an Eskisehirspor player was the one who actually used it), and then awarded Eskisehirspor an extremely debatable penalty at the stroke of half time. With a whole host of people baying for his blood back in Turkey, Aydinus’ performance will be under immense scrutiny at the Emirates. The manner in which the Turkish official handles the pressure of both the on-field action and off-field controversy might have a significant bearing on the outcome of this match.
A home victory, at least on paper. With all indicators pointing to an Arsenal victory, it only seems a question of the margin that remains. However, Arsenal’s form previous to the weekend’s win has been sketchy at best, and an off day for Cazorla might leave the London club with no one to go to for that creative spark. In a team filled with the likes of Podolski, Wilshere, Arteta, and the like, however, that seems a very unlikely scenario. So, probably just a question of the margin of victory, then.