We've never lost a game in France. Before yesterday's win at Montpellier we had won four and drawn one. Yesterday took it to five wins and one draw as the team showed a reluctance to change the trend even if it was the French champions we were playing.
17(4) Shots (on goal) 7(4)
13 Fouls 11
6 Corner kicks 5
6 Offsides 2
47% Time of Possession 53%
2 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
2 Saves 3
Stats: Courtesy of Soccernet
Diaby's yellow card inside the first minute for a dangerious tackle was well deserved but it set the tone of the game. The Montpellier players showed themselves to be a bunch of prima donnas, falling over at every little contact and they were rewarded with a penalty when Vermaleen's clumsy tackle on Younes Belhanda on the edge of the area sent him tumbling. It took a few seconds for the referee to make up his mind and point to the spot. Belhanda stepped up to take the kind of cheeky penalty that would have earned him a slating if he had missed it but no such luck for the Gunners -the lobbed
Due credit to the boys, they picked themselves up and got back into the game. Something about the way they played left little doubt that they had the belief they could still win this despite that early setback.
In the sixteenth minute, they were rewarded with the equalizer as Podolski who's proving that he scores when he wants found himself in space with the ball after a lay-off pass from Giroud. Eyeball-to-eyeball with the Montpellier keeper, the keeper blinked and Poldi slotted the ball past him into the post. It was his third goal in three games but his first European goal for Arsenal.
Three minutes later, Gervinho also got his third goal in three games after Jenkinson delivered a beautiful low cross into the six yard to find him and he slotted beyond the keeper into the net.
The first half went on in this vein till it ended with Arsenal continuing to threaten another goal and you'd not have blamed anyone who thought the Gunners will get another soon enough to secure this particular tie.
The second half was a completely different ball game as whatever it was Coach Rene Girard told his boys worked wonders even if it didn't produce the desired result in the end. Montpellier got off the block as soon as the whistle went and threatened our goal within minutes. Their instructions must have included closing Arsenal down quickly and not letting them pass the ball around as they like to do. It was mostly one way in the direction of the Arsenal goal for much of the second half and with a little more composure it might have been a different result at the end.
Cabella hit our cross-bar about ten minutes into the second half with a beautiful finesse shot that beat Mannone completely but most of their shots seemed to be aimed at the supporters behind the Arsenal goal. For one heart-stopping moment in the eightieth minute, Belhanda beat Per with quick feet and found himself in a position much like Poldi had scored from in the first half, eyeball-to-eyeball against Mannone, he blinked and fired straight into Mannone's grateful hands. Phew! The sigh of relief from Arsenal fans watching from all over the world must have been heard on Mars.
Arsenal was on the backfoot for much of the half and most wondered why it took till the 75th minute for Arsenal to make the first substitution with Diaby looking like he was in danger of getting a second yellow. He was clearly tired and was either lunging into tackles or losing the ball. Notable was one he made after losing the ball at the edge of his own area to Cabella while trying to pull off one of his trademark skills in an area where he should not have been taking chances but luckily Cabella once more took aim at the supporters instead of the Arsenal goal.
It was Giroud who got replaced at this point for Ramsey and he came off without scoring the goal he needs so much but he had gotten an assist for Poldi's goal and he delivered the pass to Jenks that he crossed for Gervinho's goal so no one can accuse him of not having an impact. He had a half chance at goal in the first half and he showed good technique with the shot on goal but it didn't hit the target. It's alright, mon ami -a bit more patience and that goal will come.
Theo Walcott and Coquelin came on in the 88th minute to replace Cazorla and Podolski as we tried to hold unto the slight lead. Arsenal needed all the focus that could be mustered as Montpellier continued wave after wave of attack and you can't help thinking that with a little more belief in themselves from the start, the result might have been different. But it was Arsenal who came away with all three points as the whistle went and Montpellier's first ever Champions League game ended in disappointment. Well, they will have it in their record books that they scored their first ever Champions League goal on the night against the mighty Arsenal FC. Some consolation.
It was an ugly win but we got the result we needed. An away win in Europe is no mean feat and more so we've often been accused of being incapable of digging in when the occasion calls for it -we did this time. Another thing is, Montpellier played in front of 30,000 home fans who urged them on relentlessly and this provided the spur that was needed to fire them up. You can't underestimate the effect of the home fans in games like this.
Like I said yesterday, I expected us to get back to London today with the three points in a tote bag and that has happened. What didn't happen was the squad rotation that most expected will take place and had even been implied by the manager who watched the game from the stands looking every bit as frustrated as he really was at not being on the side lines. Most of the usual suspects lined out to start the game with Diaby returning to the starting line up and Ox making way for Giroud in the starting eleven.
It was a job well done and Man City is up next on Sunday. Thankfully they will be reeling from the loss to Real Madrid in yesterday's game after leading up till the 87th minute then conceding two late goals. Saw replays of the goal and it was hilarious to see Kompany duck to get away from Ronaldo's shot right in front of his goalkeeper who could then not get down fast enough to stop the ball going into his net. Joe Hart has criticized his team mates publicly for the performance and Mancini has in turn slated Hart for the criticism. Let's hope their house remains in turmoil when we visit this weekend.
Can't round this up without congratulating a True Gunner, Mary who delivered a beautiful baby girl yesterday in London. She's a true brick. Was chatting away in the Gunners' Blackberry group ahead of the game and none of us was aware of what she was up to. Arianna brought us luck and she will no doubt be a Gunner just like her Mama. Congratulations, Mary! This win is dedicated to you!
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