Although Arsene Wenger says he wants to maintain the ‘continuity’ of his team, tonight gives him a chance to juggle his squad around, sit back and see what Steve Bould does with it.
The manager is, of course, suspended by UEFA for ‘improper conduct’ during the Milan game in last season’s competition. That gives the newly promoted Bould the responsibility for taking care of business tonight with Wenger prohibited from any of the in-game decision making. It will be Arsene who picks the team though and with Man City on Sunday and quite a bit of football under some belts already I think we’ll see a number of changes.
Firstly, Vito Mannone returns in goal after an ankle injury ruled out Wojciech Szczesny. Some reports say he injured himself during the warm up, while others report him holding said ankle after his fumble for Southampton’s goal. After receiving the fairly unequivocal backing of the manager it’s unlikely to be anything other than an injury and would go some way to explaining his dodgy kicking on Saturday. The Italian, meanwhile, will be hoping for a happier outcome than his last away day in the Champions League but he seems to have come a long way since his fresh air kick against Olympiacos.
The back four is where we could see two players come in. Santos for Gibbs seems obvious to me. The Brazilian needs to play and tonight is a good opportunity to give him his first minutes of the season. Equally, Laurent Koscielny will come into the team but it’s who makes way that’ll be interesting. Thomas Vermaelen’s position as captain almost precludes him being rested but he’s played every game, played twice with Belgium last week and might just be the better choice. Per Mertesacker dovetails well with both the Belgian and the Frenchman and after a long spell out of the game might well have more in the tank. It’s not an easy one though and if I had to put money on it I think the German will be ‘rested’.
In midfield Abou Diaby could return having taken a full part in training but after four good cameos from the bench I think we’ll see Aaron Ramsey start tonight. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he came in for Cazorla with a definite eye being kept on Sunday’s trip to the Middle Eastlands. Up front, I reckon Giroud will get the nod with, perhaps, Gervinho moving back to the right hand side after his impressive performance against Southampton. The manager could also bring in Theo Walcott but it’s obvious now that his contract issue is affecting his career and the boss is just as likely to leave him on the bench.
So, we might see a team like this: Mannone – Jenkinson – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Santos – Arteta – Diaby – Ramsey – Podolski – Gervinho – Giroud
The French side make their Champions League debut tonight after what Wenger called a miraculous title win last season. This campaign hasn’t started well for them, they’ve won just one game of their opening five but on the biggest stage in European football I think they’ll be looking at tonight’s game to try and turn things around. The confidence and belief they’d get from a win against Arsenal would be a real boost to them and this is not going to be easy by any means.
From our point of view though, we have the experience and the know-how in the Champions League and it is a competition which can take some getting used to. We’re unbeaten in our last five away games, stretching back to last season’s defeat at QPR, and this season we’ve seen an Arsenal team that looks well drilled, well organised and more than willing to put the work in. Again Arsene has praised Steve Bould’s influence but has urged a bit of caution with regard our defensive improvement. We need to see the team perform like this for a bit longer than three or four games to be able to really speak about his influence, but seasoned Arsenal watchers will notice the differences already.
A return to his old club provides Olivier Giroud the chance to score the most cliched goal in football. He says he’ll keep his celebrations to a minimum if he does find the net but tonight is a good chance for him to get off the mark. Away from home, at a ground he must surely feel comfortable at, without any of the pressure or expectation of the Emirates, and with players around him who certainly have the ability to provide him with chances to score. Obviously the longer he goes without a goal the more of a thing it becomes, but it has only been four games, and even if he doesn’t get one tonight it won’t be long before he does.
Overall it’s a game you fancy Arsenal to win. Our experience and form up against a team which did a wonderful thing last season but, let’s face it, overachieved at the same time should be enough to take the three points back to London. It is crucial that we maintain the same work-rate and attitude as in our league games, any lowering of standards and I have no doubt Montpellier will be capable of taking advantage.
If you can’t see tonight’s game, due to work or time zone madness, we will have full live blog coverage. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 6.45pm for another post with all the information, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.
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Finally for today, in this week’s Tactics Column, Anam looks at the role Gervinho played on Saturday against Southampton. Check it out.
Right then, until later, and come on you reds.