Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier: Job Done

Here's the truth - the French league is a joke, their champions a rabble that have made zero impact on the competition. It's not completely unfair to wish that Arsenal had put this lot away with a bit more gloss on the scoreline. Then again, as I said in the NLD recap, you have to take your chances to coast when they come along. Arsenal triumphed with the minimum of effort, which may be a blessed relief if Aston Villa turn up on Saturday having realized how uncomfortably close they are to the relegation trap door. 

The team selection was always going to be a bit of a conundrum for the manager - do you rotate the squad here and play the starters for Aston Villa, or stay the course and change it up a bit for Saturday? Arsene Wenger opted for the latter, rightly in my estimation. Should the worst happen and Villa get a result, there's some margin for error there to make it up. If we had let Montpellier nick a result, Champions League progression would come down to one tricky game in Greece.

Should there be no rotation at all, then we can surmise that the boss intends to play Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta until their legs fall off. Time will tell.

So, there was one change from the NLD lineup, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for the injured Theo Walcott. Unlike in that contest, Arsenal did not start slowly. However, that is not to say they bolted out of the starting blocks, either. The visitors vaguely threatened in the early exchanges, but only in the same sense as a drunk at a bar loudly bellowing to his friends to hold him back. All talk, no trousers.

Ten minutes elapsed as the match ambled along, whistling a tune. Briefly, the Gunners emerged from their narcolepsy when Thomas Vermaelen rampaged down the left. His cross was spot-on, and Laurent Koscielny thumped his header authoritatively. Sadly, the crossbar came to Montpellier keeper Jeffrey Jourdren's rescue. Up the other end, Wojceich Szczesny had to be alert and decisive to sweep up a through-ball that had eluded the Arsenal backline.

The half returned to its walking pace, Arsenal barely enjoying the better of it. Lukas Podolski grew into the game, the first danger sign for the visitors as he created several half-chances from the left wing. Mikel Arteta was also notable in that he seemed to neutralize every counter that Montpellier could muster. The "covered every blade of grass" cliche is overused in the best of times, but it's appropriate here.

Just as the home side started to wrest some sustained momentum out of proceedings, the halftime break came. Your mileage may have varied, but I wasn't that worried about the goalless first stanza. I didn't see where Montpellier's goal was coming from, and it seemed obvious to me that Arsenal were drawing ever closer.

That said, I don't know if anyone expected the Gunners to strike so rapidly after the re-start. I've railed on before about the importance of goals just before or after halftime, and this is no different. What little Gallic resistance had been on show up to that point dissipated entirely once Arsenal went ahead.  Vermaelen, much improved over recent efforts, again tormented the Montpellier right back, skinning him with an inside-out feint. His cross, despite coming from his weaker right foot, was majestic. Olivier Giroud continued his fantastic target-man play by knocking it down into the path of Jack Wilshere. Jourdren was a half-second too slow coming off his line, and Jack made him pay with a deftly-chipped finish over him. That was a goal both lovely and desperately needed in equal measure.

Soon after, that little bastard Younes Belhanda got Giroud booked when a stray brushed-hand to his face sent him sprawling like a Mike Tyson opponent circa 1987. Referees have a tough job and all, but you hate to see one conned so easily at this level. Actually, this one (Firat Aydinus - of course, we couldn't get the good Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir) was generally awful but thankfully irrelevant.

All credit to our big striker though, as he didn't lose his head. In fact, on the hour mark he legged it all the way back to our goal line to make a determined block. I'm beginning to change my tune about the man - he's quickly becoming undroppable.

A few minutes later, Podolski got the goal his play so richly deserved. And, what a goal it was, too. If you missed the game, seriously, stop reading this drivel and get thee hence to 101 Great Goals. The Ox started the move with a nice steal in midfield, and his interplay with Podolski left the defense in tatters. The ball was played out to Giroud, who scooped a perfectly-weighted ball over the statues in blue. Podolski, at full canter, volleyed the ball sweetly over the arm of Jourdren and into the roof of the net. Frankly, it was a lucky thing for the keeper - had he gotten a hand to that, it would have come off at the wrist. A proper thunderbolt, that.

From that point on, the only reason the last half hour needed to be played was to comply with the Laws of Association Football. Montpellier were a beaten team, Arsenal were intent on saving their energy for future engagements. Giroud had a few chances well saved by Joudren, some subs came on, and that was about it.

Schalke '04's win over Olympiacos means that we have our now-annual Matchday 6 Dead Rubber in Athens. Importantly, that will be another opportunity for Wenger to get some minutes in for guys like Francis Coquelin, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh. Injuries and suspensions happen, and you never know who you'll need to depend on five games from now. In the meantime, the job is done for now, and hopefully this will serve as practice for putting a crap side to the sword. Three points is the minimum when Saturday rolls on.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Wilshere 8, Arteta 8, Podolski 8, Cazorla 8 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Ramsey 7), Giroud 8 (Gervinho N/A)

Man of the Match: This one is one of those tough ones where all of our attacking players had excellent games. Wilshere's first goal since his return and Podolski's thunderbolt make them both fine candidates, and Giroud had another storming game leading the line. I have to give it to Mikel Arteta though, for an absolutely brilliant performance on both sides of the ball. He pulled the strings in midfield, and covered every blade of grass on the rare occasions Montpellier had the ball.