Date: 17th September 2012 at 1:51pm
Written by:

On Sky

Arsenal begin another Champions League campaign in the South of France, with Arsene Wenger’s side in form against a Montpellier side who have lost 3 of their first 5 games in Ligue 1.

Olivier Giroud makes a swift return to his old club, where he finished as Montpellier’s top scorer, as they swept to an unexpected title. Steve Bould will also take charge of the Gunners officially tonight, with Arsene Wenger beginning another three game UEFA ban for not having excused himself following a violent sneeze.

Vital Quotes:

Arsene Wenger has confirmed he will make a few changes for the visit to France, with a crammed schedule ahead of him. ‘The core of the team will stay the same, with 7 or 8 players from Saturday still playing.’

Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud has expressed that his return to his old stamping ground will be totes emosh,

‘To return to Montpellier is very special because I spent two very happy years there which were fantastic,” Giroud said. “Montpellier is a family club and I left a lot of friends behind – everybody who works at the club and the players.

“I spent a beautiful, wonderful season there last year when we were champions and won the title. It was a fantastic achievement for Montpellier to win the French championship and there was a lot of emotion when we won.

“It will be difficult for me to play against Montpellier, because there is a lot of emotion and I have so many good memories of last season. I left a lot of friends and it`s going to be great to see them.

“But only after the game will I talk to anyone. This is an important match and I will be concentrating on it. I will not speak with my friends until afterwards.”

Meanwhile, Montpellier manager Rene Girard is looking forward to seeing his old chum Arsene Wenger, but does not intend on making it a comfortable evening for him, ‘”It was good to see him; we’ve known each other for a long time. He was in fine form, so I hope his team isn’t doing as well as he is!”

“There’s a lot of respect there. We spoke a lot about the upcoming match. He knows that we`re a good side and that his lads will have to be on the money to come out of it with the three points.’

Montpellier HSC Team News:

Romain Pitau is suspended following a straight red card in the qualifier against Gyori.

Player to watch: John Utaka

Famous in England for being the poster boy for Portsmouth’s exorbitant wage policy, but in France, Utaka has reignited his form as a pacey, lively winger. He is the fast, direct sort of player that defences never like playing against.

Arsenal Team News:

Arsenal have left Wojciech Szczesny behind for the flight to France due to an ankle injury, which may explain some of his shonky kicking on Saturday! James Shea will be on the bench because Martinez- being Argentinean and all, wasn’t included in the Champions League squad listing.

Abou Diaby trained with the team on Monday morning and is expected to board the flight, but may not start the game.

That means Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski and Emmanuel Frimpong are Arsenal’s casualties. Expect a few more peripheral players to come in. I’d expect Santos, Koscielny, Giroud and Ramsey to start. Possibly Walcott too.

The travelling squad is: Mannone, Shea, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Santos, Arteta, Coquelin, Diaby, Ramsey, Cazorla, Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski, Gervinho, Giroud.

Player to watch: Lukas Podolski

Seems to have settled into a nice little nook of space between flank and full back. He has struck up good partnerships with Gibbs and Cazorla. That’s what good players do. If, as I expect, Santos starts at left back, he’ll find a willing attacking outlet on the flank. Podolski appears to have adapted super quickly to life at Arsenal.

Match Facts & Stats

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight opening game encounters in the Champions League group stage. The last time they lost their opening game was a 3-0 defeat to Inter Milan at Highbury in September 2003.

This is Montpellier’s first game in the European Cup. They are one of three clubs making their debut in the group stage this season, along with M√°laga CF and FC Nordsj√¶lland.

The French champions have scored 49 goals in UEFA competition.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 5 away matches.

Arsene Wenger has taken Arsenal to Lens, Nantes, Auxerre, Marseilles and Lyon without having lost in his home nation.

This is the first ever meeting of the two sides.

Ref Watch:

The referee will be Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP). I don’t know who he is but I’m sure I will hate him.

Match Prediction:

Going for a 2-1 win for Arsenal. I fancy Giroud and Gervinho to score.

Next Fixtures:

Arsenal’s next Champions League fixture will be at home to Olympiacos on October 3rd. Montpellier will travel to Schalke on the same night.