Arsenal face a must-win game in the Champions League when French champions Montpellier visit the Emirates for the 5th game of the group phase. Qualification to the knock out stages hangs in the balance for the Gunners apart from the fact that confidence among the players and fans alike will take another massive dent if the result is not along expected lines.
Rene Girard’s team have looked like a shadow of their Ligue 1 winning unit but they are regaining some measure of respectability after going 4 games unbeaten including draws against PSG and Valenciennes, sides that are within 3 points of leaders Lyon.
The visitors have already been eliminated from the competition and it remains to be seen whether this affects their game. On one hand you could argue they’ll play with a nothing-to-lose mentality and can pose serious a challenge to Arsenal. On the other hand, they could make some changes to the squad with their League campaign in mind and some of the players might take it easy. We won’t know till we see their performance and the Gunners can only assume they’ll be up against a committed side that has a point to prove.
Tactically, this tie will again hinge on the battle in midfield, as is the case with almost every Arsenal game. Montpellier have to find a way to prevent Arsenal from bringing the ball out of defence. In the reverse fixture they were able to hold possession for large spells and the Gunners showed the tendency to drop really deep, particularly in the second half. This resulted in a relatively easier game for the Montpellier defence but they still lost that game due to a brief three minute spell in which Arsenal scored two goals. Girard’s team could concede more in this game if they can’t stop Arteta and Wilshere from dictating the tempo.
At the same time, Arsenal must be wary of the talents of Belhanda and Cabella who were a constant menace when the sides met in the first game of the group phase. Montpellier as a unit have commendable technical qualities and could put Szczesny’s goal under pressure if Arsenal don’t get their defensive approach sorted.
We’ve seen the Gunners struggle when they back off from the opposition players and we’ve also seen goals and opportunities conceded when the players try to press higher up the pitch but without cohesion. Wenger’s team are at their best when they dominate the ball and push the opponents deep in their own half but European teams generally have the quality to keep the ball on the ground and create some passing combinations. We have to hope for better coordination among the Gunner ranks and a uniform approach when possession is lost.
Wenger has the chance to rest a couple of players but he is also in desperate need of a win. Walcott is out of the game due to an injury while Gibbs and Gervinho are back in the squad. They should both come straight into the starting line-up if deemed fit. Oxlade-Chamberlain could come in for Theo and Vermaelen might continue to fill in at left-back if Arsene thinks the returning players have to be eased back in.
I’d like to see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.
I doubt Wenger will leave Mertesacker out but I feel going with two aggressive central defenders and playing a really high line could suit the Gunners in this game. Of course, that depends on Gibbs being fit enough to start, which is not a given.
Wenger might also consider the option of having Ramsey on the right flank. It’d be a highly unpopular choice but I can see the reasoning given the technical qualities that Montpellier have.
Gervinho hasn’t been as effective on the right but he did get a goal against these opponents in the reverse fixture and will be coming in fresh. There is also an option to shift him on to the left and give Podolski or Giroud a breather. Again, I’m not convinced Wenger will disrupt the system where key players are beginning to find some rhythm.
Giroud is on a good run and he could thrive on quality balls into the box as the visitors have shown some weaknesses aerially. With Walcott missing, Sagna will probably have extra responsibility for delivering such crosses from the right although AOC, if he starts, could also provide useful service. Gervinho, in contrast, is more likely to go to the by-line and cut balls back or drift across the penalty box and play shorter passes. If Gibbs starts, the Frenchman could also expect a fair amount creative contributions from the left.
Cazorla’s movement and involvement will also be worth observing as he’s shown a tendency to drift into wider areas to make greater impact in attack. Montpellier’s relatively inexperienced team could also struggle against Wilshere’s driving runs.
All-in-all this appears to be a game that Arsenal should dominate and win but in recent past the Gunners have found a way of complicating things almost every time I’ve had that feeling. Whether it’s elementary mistakes in defence, playing with the handbrake on, or a lack of incision in attack, there are many ways in which Wenger’s team could make this a tougher game than it should be. Fingers crossed…Follow @goonerdesi
P.S. Thanks everyone for the kind wishes