Good morning, afternoon or evening from where ever you're reading this, I hope you're sitting comfortably. This evening, morning or afternoon Arsenal embarks on their Champions League campaign (depending on where you are) in what promises to be tough fixture for both sides.
Playing away from home in the Champion’s League is always a tough ask, and what makes it tougher is having to play the league champions from France. Last season we had to play the league champions from Germany and I've lost count of how many times we've had to play Barcelona in recent seasons, so we know what it takes to get a result against domestic champions.
While playing away from home is hard, it is also tough having to welcome a side that recently smashed six goals past a team in their league, who are yet to lose domestically and have only conceded one goal through a Flapihandski style piece of goalkeeping. Montpellier’s start to their league title retention has been going slightly less than swimmingly, and their own players and manager have conceded that they will need to significantly up their game if they are to avoid a drumming more severe than this man! Their manager has even urged their home fans to give us hell and intimidate us from the first whistle. I assume that football chants and jeers in France sounds anything but intimidating because of how fluidly their language flows…it must be like being drooled on by your grandmother’s dog; more of an inconvenience than anything else. The Stoke home crowd would represent more of a werewolf hiding on your wardrobe as you stand oddly stationary in your bedroom, starring in a cheap horror movie.
Whilst I doubt that we will go there and take them apart in the same way that we did with Southampton at home, I'm in no doubt that we can do the business at their place. They are yet to pick up a win so far this season and sold their best CF to a European rival, which must be almost as annoying as selling your best CF to a domestic rival. They have struggled with conceding silly goals in their last few games, and with the canons loaded and primed we are certainly firing well. A good result in the Champion’s League usually constitutes a draw away from home, and while I would certainly take that I think we can definitely go there and do some damage, hopefully making something of a statement to the rest of our group.
I believe that we have made two changes to our squad from Southampton last weekend, Diaby coming in for Arshavin and James Shea replacing the injured Szcz. Hopefully Szcz’s absence is more precautionary than anything else. While he had a poor game against The Saints, there’s no doubt in my mind that he is by far our best keeper and we could do with him having another season like he did last year in term of fitness (obviously there’s always room for on pitch improvement). It wouldn’t be at all surprising to me, given the quality of the opposition and the needs that some players have for minutes, to see a little bit of squad rotation coming in to rest some legs and energise some others.
I’d select a team of:
Manonne, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos, Ramsey, Diaby, Cazorla, Walcott, Gervinho, Giroud.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Gibbs was given something of a rest ahead of what promises to be a tough afternoon for him in Manchester next weekend. Santos has barely featured for us so far this season so it may be a good chance to rotate whilst keeping our offensive potency. Koscielny could step in for 90 minutes to give Per a rest and perhaps offer the manager a selection headache ahead of Man City. With both Aguero and Tevez possessing lightening turns of pace it may be that he would prefer for the more nimble Koscielny to step in, and this game against Montpellier would be a good chance for him to find his touch for 90 minutes. Podolski and Arteta both deserve a break; they are players who you would anticipate playing 90 minutes for every game that they are fit for, so it may be wise give them a bit of time off and allow for Ramsey and Walcott to stretch their legs. And what better place to get Giroud firing than on the pitch that he tore up the French league last season? If the gods didn’t want him to emulate Henry and Bergkamp and score against The Saints, they must want him to score against his old club.
Just when you thought UEFA couldn’t get any more ridiculous they are of course upholding Wenger’s ban for the next three Champions League games, if I’m not mistaken. For whatever reason though, I don’t feel apprehensive about Bould taking over in the slightest. Perhaps I’ve been caught up in the media storm surrounding him and his old school defensive attitudes, but I think we’ll do just fine. If we don’t show up in the first half I’ve no doubt he has the presence and authority to kick the players up the arse in the interval. Another clean sheet would do his reputation no damage at all.
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