Arsenal booked their passage into the knock-out stages of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Montpellier at the Emirates this evening.
Arsene Wenger made just one change from the 5-2 win over Sp*rs with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing the injured Theo Walcott, while Gervinho and Kieran Gibbs returned to the bench.
The opening minutes were characterised by a series of sloppy Arsenal passes, with Wilshere, Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski all failing to find their men under no real pressure.
Arsenal fashioned the first chance though, Laurent Koscielny smashing a header off the crossbar in the 11th minute after a great cross from the left. From the rebound Per Mertesacker shimmied his way into the box like an elongated Lionel Messi, but was tackled before he could take a shot.
Wojciech Szczesny was then called into action when the visitors broke through, timing his intervention perfectly to prevent a goal.
Arsenal, despite being marginally on top, were restricted to speculative efforts. Olivier Giroud hooked a shot wide from distance, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain forced a save from Jourdren with a shot on the turn but it was easy for the keeper.
In the 32nd minute, Laurent Koscielny made a brilliant run from the back, surged all the way to the edge of the Montpellier box, and lost the ball only for them to present it back to us. It came to Podolski, he cut inside, inside again and with his weaker right foot shot from the edge of the box but it rolled just wide.
Arsenal continued their pressure. A fine move worked the ball through midfield to Santi Cazorla, his perfectly timed pass found Podolski running into the box but, under pressure and from a relatively tight angle, he shot wide.
The rest of the half played itself out without much incident, Montpellier’s only real moments of danger came when Arsenal, and Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular, were sloppy on the ball, but shots from distance never troubled Szczesny.
Arsenal took the lead early in the second half through Jack Wilshere. A Thomas Vermaelen cross from the left was headed down by Olivier Giroud and from close range the onrushing Wilshere dinked it over the keeper to make it 1-0. His first Arsenal goal in almost two years.
It didn’t exactly inspire Arsenal, with Montpellier having a decent spell after the goal. Szczesny was forced into a routine save by Cabella before another speculative long-ranger went wide. The linesman didn’t endear himself to the home crowd either, giving Podolski and Giroud offside when they clearly weren’t.
The Gunners doubled their lead in the 63rd minute though. A move started on the right by Oxlade-Chamberlain who came inside and was blocked off. Podolski picked it up, played it to Giroud on the D who dinked it back over the defence and on the run Podolski hammered a left footed volley past the keeper to make it 2-0. A truly brilliant goal and the quality of the finish was just what the pass deserved.
The pair were invovled again when a Sagna cross almost fell perfectly for Giroud to head home, but Montpellier’s defence got a touch and the ball just evaded Podolski on the rebound.
And again the German and the Frenchman combined when Podolski’s cute pass inside the Montpellier defence found Giroud but his right footed shot from close range was saved by Jourdren.
Arsene Wenger brought on Coquelin and Gervinho for Cazorla and the two-assist HFB and looked to run down the clock. The most exciting thing that happened in the final stages was a Montpellier player taking a Vermaelen hoofer square in the face, right on the hooter! Boom, it’s nearly as funny as football to the groin.
With Schalke winning against Olympiacos it means that Arsenal have qualified for the knock-out stages, but will have to win in Greece and hope tonight’s opponents can take points of the group leaders if they want to go through in pole position.
All in all though a good night, good goals, a clean sheet and three vital points.