Arsenal take aim at flustered new boys Montpellier
MONTPELLIER - Agence France-Presse
Arsenal's Polish-born German striker Lukas Podolski (L) celebrates scoring his goal with team-mates during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Southampton at The Emirates Stadium in north London, England on September 15, 2012. AFP photoAfter a frustrating start to the season, Arsenal appear to have hit form just in time for Tuesday's trip to competition debutants Montpellier in their opening Champions League fixture.
Held 0-0 by first Sunderland and then Stoke City in the Premier League, Arsenal kick-started their campaign with a 2-0 win at Liverpool on September 2 before routing promoted Southampton 6-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Having endured a turbulent summer that saw captain Robin van Persie and Alex Song leave the club, Arsene Wenger has been thrilled to see his side find their feet ahead of a testing run of fixtures in the weeks ahead.
"We have a big week coming up because we go on Tuesday now to Montpellier," said the Arsenal coach, who is bidding to lead his side into the knockout rounds for the 13th consecutive season.
"On Sunday we play at Man City (in the Premier League) and we have two interesting weeks coming up because we play Chelsea as well.
"We will know more about our team then but there is a positive energy in this team, a desire to play well together, and real team play. It is very exciting." Wenger will watch Tuesday's game at Stade de la Mosson from the stands, as he serves the first match of a three-game ban for confronting the referee following last season's Champions League elimination by AC Milan.
His absence from the dug-out for the Group B fixture is likely to provide only scant comfort for his opposite number, Rene Girard, however.
Tuesday's match will represent Montpellier's first ever appearance in Europe's top club competition but the French champions have had a terrible start to their domestic season, losing three and drawing one of their first five games.
The Mediterranean club have shipped eight goals already, despite having boasted the meanest defence in Ligue 1 last season, and Girard accused his players of defending "like juniors" in Friday night's 3-1 defeat at promoted Reims.
"We need to wake up quickly," said Girard. "Because if we don't, we're going to fall from a great height on Tuesday." Olivier Giroud makes his return to the club he left in the summer to join Arsenal, and Girard can only hope that the France international striker continues to fire blanks.
Giroud's 21 goals last season spearheaded Montpellier's unlikely title success but he is still waiting to get off the mark for Arsenal after four matches without finding the net.
"I want to score in every match, but if I score against Montpellier I will keep the celebration small," the 25-year-old striker told the Arsenal website, www.arsenal.com.
"That is normal for anybody, for the club and Montpellier fans. It will be out of respect to my old club." Giroud's place in the Arsenal starting XI is not secure, as he was left on the bench against Southampton and saw his replacement, former Lille forward Gervinho, run in two goals in a man-of-the-match performance.
Arsenal remain without long-term injury victims Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, who are all expected to return next month, but Wenger says Abou Diaby will make the trip to France after missing the Southampton game with a hip injury.
Nigerian forward John Utaka is out for Montpellier after a thigh injury forced him off in the 26th minute at Reims, but Tunisian holding midfielder Jamel Saihi is expected to start despite missing that match due to illness.
Arsenal are unbeaten in eight away games against French teams in UEFA competitions.
An injury-time goal from Aaron Ramsey saw them win 1-0 at Marseille in the group phase last season, before they fell 4-3 on aggregate to Milan in the last 16.