Arsenal will play French Ligue 1 champions Montpellier in their first CL away match since that mauling at the San Siro in February. This is Montpellier’s first season in the competition, but that doesn’t mean they will be a pushover.
The French side won their first Ligue 1 title on the final day of the season, beating moneybags PSG to the trophy. If you haven’t heard the surprising stat regarding their expenditure versus that of their rivals, here it is: Montpellier spent a mere €2 million, while the Parisian side spent over €100 million. It goes without saying that tomorrow’s opposition have some great players, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to achieve such a feat.
Montpellier had Olivier Giroud, scorer of 21 goals (joint top of the league) and notching 9 assists. They have Moroccan international Belhanda, one of the brightest young talents in France, who grabbed 12 goals and 4 assists in just 28 league appearances. Captain Yanga-Mbiwa is a strong French centre back who was linked with Arsenal last summer. They have another decent central defender in Henri Bedimo, who made it into the UNFP Team of the Year.
But despite their heroics of last season, they have started this campaign pretty poorly, with just one win in the first five games. They sit 16th in the table, already 11 points off table-topping Marseille. For this reason, the club President Nicollin has said the following to L’Equipe:
“I’ve no worries, I’m sure [that we will play well vs Arsenal]. But the match against Saint-Etienne is more important than Arsenal. Tuesday night, the stadium will be full, I’m happy for our supporters, but nothing more. Savour what it is to be champions of France. Champions League is good, but it is not an end in itself.”
If the President’s comments have any bearing on the manager’s team selection, then we may not see Montpellier starting their strongest team for tomorrow’s game.
On the other hand, this is Arsenal’s 15th straight appearance in the Champions League, coinciding with the 16th anniversary of Wenger’s appointment as our manager. Our record against French sides is pretty decent, with five wins and three draws in our away games and only two defeats in sixteen matches. We managed to beat the current Ligue 1 leaders away from home last season thanks to that late Ramsey goal, although the home game was a pretty dull, goalless draw.
Click here to see the 18-man squad and team news. The surprise (or perhaps not so surprising) is Mannone’s inclusion in the squad at the expense of Szczesny. You might initially assume that our no.1 has been dropped due to his drop on the weekend. But Wenger has confirmed that it is an injury, and Mannone is just filling in. However, Arsene said the following, which makes it look like our no.1 position is no as clear-cut as some fans may think:
“Vito is very close to the number one jersey, and he gets another opportunity now.”
So Mannone will be deputising for Szczesny, who has some sort of knock. I can’t see Wenger changing more than two players from our impressive defence, so I think the only other change will be Koscielny coming in for Mertesacker. The German has had an excellent start to the season but he hasn’t got the fitness to play two games every week for a whole season. For that reason, I think my favourite defender will get his first start of the season. As for the midfield, I’d be surprised if either Arteta or Cazorla were rested. The third midfield position is up for grabs, but I reckon Ramsey will be given a start after his good cameo appearance in the Southampton game. In attack, I expect Podolski to continue on the left and Giroud to be brought in against his former club. I hope Theo starts because his pace could be deadly in this kind of away match.
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