Arsenal visited the south of France for a day. The sole reason to take three points that on paper are deserved. Arsene Wenger was in the stands, hopefully understanding his touchline ban.
It didn’t take long for things to hit full speed. A Yellow in the first minute, an early penalty, and then two quick Arsenal goals explains only a few aspects of the match. The first 20 minutes were at a frenetic pace.
The Montpellier fans were up for it, so loud, so intense, and totally over the top. The atmosphere spilled on to the pitch and you could see a team motivated on their debut. They did almost everything they could, including letter Cabella dive whenever he could and rushing shots as often as they could.
MOTM, two matches in a row, Gervinho. It’s pretty simple his engine kept him going. He was in four positions, sometimes it felt like he occupied four at the same time. I loved his movement off the ball, he varied his movements off the wings, and when he played through the middle for the last 7 minutes or so, he was influential and effective.
The runner-up is Podolski, he came from deep, he cut across, he passed in to the channel, and he cut the ball back. He lacked some energy but rose to the occasion. He was professional, and we need that badly up front. His strike was well composed and he did ever so well to control position after getting a tough lay-on by Giroud.
Olivier Giroud is doing the little things well, he moves well, passes well and shields the ball far better than our striker from last season did. The only downside against Montpellier was that he was not quick, it’s not something he can do. He made up for it by using his body to completely separate the ball from Mapou Yanga-MBiwa who had to kick him in the ribs to disrupt play. I call that taking several for the team.
Santi Cazorla played well, but looked tired. The jump was gone from his step. There are two reasons for this. First the turnaround from Southampton was short, especially since he has played several matches, plus the air travel took away some much needed relaxation time. Thankfully he has five days to recover for Man City. The part that I love about Cazorla is how fast he has bonded with Gervinho, Podolski, Giroud and Diaby. There is a cohesion there that we have not seen since Bergkamp, Pires, Henry, and Vieira graced the pitch together. That is high praise, but over the last many years we have seen maybe three people gel, but not five!
Abou Diaby had his worst game of the season. A brash statement out of the gate about a guy who’s been really impressive so far, but he definitely took a step back away to Montpellier. Twice he tied some agile fancy footwork to elude Cabella, and both times he did not have defensive support. Luckily Cabella rushed one shot and poorly attempted a cross with the other. Diaby was very fortunate today. Offensively he made several very attractive runs. A few people posted on twitter that it was Yaya-esque. I maintain that comparing Diaby to Yaya and Vieira should be nothing more than a compliment, because Diaby is not at his full potential yet; he’s not even at 100% fitness yet. So let’s hold back on the comparisons, hopefully they will be the ones accepting the compliment of being in the same sentence as Diaby. Diaby also was unlucky to gather up that yellow card, I felt that he won the ball and his momentum carried him through the player. It was not a scissor tackle, it was not mistimed; the angle I saw (and I have not seen a replay) shows a clean tackle.
Mikel Arteta is my unsung hero for the match. He made two class tackles and got himself in positive positions throughout the match. He drew countless fouls, sometimes a little exaggerated for my taste but it had to be done. Especially with a Spanish match official who seemed to want the spotlight a little too much, more on him later. Arteta’s presence on the pitch and composure is rubbing off on other players, most noticeably Per Mertesacker. Mertesacker’s only forward passes at Montpellier were to Arteta. Not Diaby, not Cazoral, ONLY Arteta. This could become an issue going forward.
Kieran Gibbs continues to cross the ball effectively. Wait did I just say that again? He was solid, though he sometimes got caught too far up the pitch and Diaby had to cover for him. Gibbs has improved his runs this season, rather than looking for the pass, he reads the defenders and knows that a through ball will be there on the edge of the 18yard box before it is even kicked. This improvement is giving him better angles to cross and more time to gauge his pass. He had a chance to set up Giroud and unfortunately it was his worst of the cross as it came in around hip height. Giroud had no chance to convert on his current form and confidence. Gibbs also got the referee’s feathers ruffled when he yelled for a penalty. I thought it could have been given, but the referee puffed his chest out and yelled at Gibbs. Have a look, the official looks a little ridiculous.
Thomas Vermaelen was adequate, he lacked discipline. The intensity of moment and the speed of the match put added pressure on to him that he was not ready to handle. He did foul Belhanda, unnecessary when you consider that Belhanda would not have been able to cross on the next touch he had. While some camera views may have attempted to show Vermaelen winning the ball, he had to go through Belhanda to win it. The foul itself was in the box, a lot of people were fixated on the ball which was outside of the box/on the line. The line is in the box.
Per Mertesacker is out best defender for closing shooting lanes. He sacrifices his body to get in the way or shots and to limit the time that opposing players have to set up their strikes. You could see the long term effect on Montpellier when they started rushing their shots from distance. However, Per nearly got caught out when he slid and missed. Luckily the resulting shot from the deke was put right into the abdomen of Mannone. Another bullet dodged. Aerially Per was very stable, he needs to work on his flicks in the offensive zone. He was pushed out of position too often for my liking, especially with his size and presence.
Carl Jenkinson must be reading my match reports. Keeping it low creates chances, his pass to Gervinho was perfectly measured. He still has some serious positioning issues in the middle of the park and was caught out on several occasions, but he makes up for it with improved aerial work in our 18 yard box. Jenkinson also owes Giroud a steak dinner for terrible effort in the 27’, he was turned around by the attacking player and Giroud’s well time challenge saved his bacon.
Don Vito Mannone handled the pressure of the match and the disappointment of the penalty very well. He communicated much more effectively than he had with Liverpool or Stoke. He was big, strong and outside of one goal kick (the one that curled well in to touch) he was distributing the ball very well. He might have sold himself too soon on the penalty, but given the pressure of the moment I am just glad that he made the move he did. I was worried he would be frozen still and not be able to reach the post on the side he chose.
Aaron Ramsey’s entrance to the match was a surprise not in his appearance but who he replaced. I was surprised to see him come on for Giroud and change the shape as much as it did. It proved an effective tactic. Sadly he came on by himself when more subs were immediately needed. I also felt that he should have come on for Cazorla. He provided some spark to the squad to keep things moving effectively and maintaining the pace that Arsenal had kept since the 20’ when Montpellier’s incredible workrate finally started to wear down.
Walcott’s introduction was too late. I thought he needed to come on much earlier for Podolski to save the legs for Man City. Walcott looked excited and passionate about his chance, and I sense from his body language that he wants to perform.
Coquelin’s introduction made sense, but again, too late. Cazorla’s legs were gone by the time Ramsey came one. If I had used substitutions the way I felt they were needed, then Coquelin would have come on for Diaby as Cazorla would have already made way for Ramsey. This is not because they occupy similar roles on the pitch, but because Podolski, Cazorla and Diaby were my three targets to get a smaller run-out in the interest of fitness and fatigue for Man City.
This match had its problems as the referee wanted to play his part. He had to talk in staccato and yell to deal with everything. Cabella seemed to be auditioning for some sort of interpretive dance class in diving. The goalline official seemed inept to call a corner or goal kick correctly, are they even consulted on such matters? In the end Bould handled himself and the team well. Montpellier came out with a level of energy that everyone knew they would not be able to sustain. When the pace started to ease Arsenal were already back on the front foot and ready to close it out.
There were a couple of tense moments toward the end of the match where Arsenal were losing possession and allowing shots. Those herculean shots from distance are where those freak Chiek Tiote and Danny Rose goals come from, so yes, I was worried. Luckily it’s job done, five days of rest and then the biggest test of this early season.