Podolski keeps firing for Gunners
Lukas Podolski continued his recent scoring streak as Arsenal began their Champions League campaign with a battling 2-1 victory away to Montpellier.
Last Updated: 19/09/12 12:10am
Lukas Podolski continued his recent scoring streak as Arsenal began their UEFA Champions League campaign with a battling 2-1 victory away to Montpellier in Group B.
The Gunners went behind with just nine minutes on the clock as Thomas Vermaelen was penalised for an unnecessary challenge on Younes Belhanda, with the Montpellier man picking himself up to beat Vito Mannone with an audacious dinked finish.
But the visitors, with Steve Bould in charge of team affairs due to Arsene Wenger's touchline ban which left him watching from the stands, did not panic and immediately turned the game in their favour.
Podolski opened his European account for the north London club with his third goal in successive matches, coolly rolling the ball home after a neat inter-change of passes between Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud.
And Arsenal were ahead in the 18th minute as Gervinho applied the finishing touch to Carl Jenkinson's dangerous low cross from close range with Giroud involved again in the build-up against his former club following the eventual scorer's surging run.
The French champions, making their debut at this level, pushed Arsenal onto the back foot throughout the second half but could not find an equaliser, with Remi Cabella's chip coming back off the bar and Belhanda firing straight at Mannone from an excellent position.
Combative midfielder Abou Diaby had only just returned from injury to the starting XI - and went straight into the referee's notebook inside the first minute when he clattered Marco Estrada.
Arsenal settled well, and soon had the hosts on the back foot. However, Montpellier remained dangerous on the counter-attack - and took the lead on nine minutes.
Gunners captain Vermaelen slid in on Belhanda at the far right edge of the penalty area and the Moroccan went down in a heap with the assistant on the goalline indicating the foul was inside the box - much to the disbelief of the visitors.
Belhanda got up to take the spot-kick himself, netting Montpellier's first Champions League goal with a nonchalant chip.
Arsenal responded well to trailing for the first time this season - and were behind for less than 10 minutes.
Summer signings Cazorla and Giroud, playing against his old club, combined with some slick passing on the edge of the Montpellier area to slip Podolski clear - and the German tucked the ball under goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren.
Before the home side could regroup, Arsenal struck again on 18 minutes.
This time the damage was done down the right, as the ball was recycled quickly through Gervinho and Giroud out to full-back Jenkinson, who darted toward the line before cutting the ball back across the six-yard box - where Gervinho arrived on cue to bundle in it.
To their credit, Rene Girard's side - who battled against the odds to beat big-spending Paris St Germain to the championship last season - refused to lie down and slowly built up some momentum again.
In the 33rd minute, Argentina forward Estrada - brought in to offset the departure of Giroud - made space for a shot from 20 yards, which Mannone tipped around the post.
Arsenal, though, continued to look menacing through their quick breaks. As half-time approached, Giroud, who struck 21 goals for Montpellier last season, swept wide after Kieran Gibbs crossed from the left.
Arsenal, though, were almost caught out following the restart when Diaby dithered on the ball inside his own area and was robbed by Cabella, who slammed a shot just wide of the angle.
Montpellier continued to make the most of their dominant spell, as Arsenal were guilty of some stray passing when out to break up possession.
Cabella remained the dangerman, and 10 minutes into the second half he clipped a delightful 20-yard chip against the crossbar.
Diaby then surged through the Montpellier side and played in Cazorla, whose angled drive was beaten behind by the keeper.
Arsenal appeared to have weathered most of the home side's storm. With 15 minutes left, £12million striker Giroud was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. The France international left the field to general applause, although there were some boos around the unforgiving Stade de la Mosson.Belhanda spurned a golden opportunity to level with 10 minutes left when some quick footwork sidestepped Per Mertesacker after a cross into the Arsenal box from the right, but he then fired straight at Mannone.
|1||1st Half Goals||2|
|4||Shots on Target||4|
|9||Shots off Target||1|
|34.1||1st Half Poss.||65.9|
|58.2||2nd Half Poss.||41.8|