Once again, Arsenal embarks on yet another (ill-fated?) Champions League campaign. That’s 15 consecutive qualifications under Arsene Wenger. The naysayers will point to the fact all it has yielded is one runner-up gong, but all you have to do is look at how robbed Spurs felt with Chelsea stealing their entry from them, or how hard they celebrated on the one occasion they did qualify.
As an opening fixture, we have French champions Montpellier (pronunciation guide!) to contend with. It comes before we take on English champions Man City this weekend, followed by European champions Chelsea soon after. Rotation will play a factor in selection, but given there is a five-day gap until the following fixture, I anticipate only minor tweaks. The first team will be pushed to the limit in the league, before getting a small break in our first League Cup match against Coventry.
The team will have arrived in France ahead of our first Champions League clash with Olivier Giroud’s former club, and you can expect our new striker to start on his old hunting ground. The pressure on him to score has been enormous, possibly more than other new arrivals over the years given the player he was replacing. Nevertheless, almost no-one in the Arsenal camp is buying the ‘flop’ label opponents have dished out, given he has only started twice and come off the bench on two other occasions. Tonight, against his former club with whom he won Ligue 1, will be the perfect opportunity to banish a few gremlins.
Player profile: Olivier Giroud
He will come against his old team-mate Younes Belhanda, who dovetailed so well with Giroud during their league-winning run. Shorn of the Frenchman’s service, Belhanda and Montpellier have struggled in their title defence, losing three of their last five matches. It’s not something I take pleasure in, as I was personally stoked for one of the ‘smaller’ teams to blindside everybody and win the French title last season.
Nevertheless, the press has made a big spiel about Montpellier’s form, with the Daily Mail going as far as to suggest we’ll knock eight goals past them. I really think that idea is as far-fetched as they come. Montpellier away is a difficult fixture. In fact, 99% of Champions League fixtures are tremendously challenging. A team like Arsenal, probably the most popular team in France, even above their own domestic sides, will no doubt spur on so many of the Montpellier players, and their fans, to put in a season-changing performance.
I’m taking nothing for granted against these guys. Every single one of our away fixtures in Group B are difficult. We’ve struggled at Olympiacos and Schalke goes without saying. Playing the French champions will be just as tricky.
As I said earlier, there will be some rotation tonight, but not too much. We have a decent breather of five days before Man City, so I’m only predicting three changes. The first is injury-enforced with news that Wojcech Szczesny is having some trouble with his ankle, which makes my judgement and fury over his distribution against Southampton a tiny bit harsher. Vito Mannone will step into the breach.
Related story: Anger over Szczesny’s blunder is healthy
Player profile: Wojcech Szczesny
I’m also anticipating Arsene Wenger giving Kieran Gibbs a rest and letting Andre Santos on at left back for his first start of the season, while Aaron Ramsey should also make the line-up for the first time this season. I expect the rest of the back-four to remain the same, as we’ll need them to continue developing an understanding ahead of a tough fortnight.
Gervinho should keep his place in the side after his brace against Southampton, pushing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the bench, while Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla will keep their places. Lukas Podolski will continue his good work on the left alongside Giroud.
From the bench, you can expect Abou Diaby to make some appearance tonight after his thigh niggle kept him out in the last match, while Andrey Arshavin and one of Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott will also be pushing for an appearance.
EDIT: Turns out Arshavin is not in the squad; he’s been bumped out by Diaby.
I’m going with a tight 2-1 win for us tonight with Giroud and Arteta grabbing the goals.We’ll want more of the same from the defence tonight. If we’re going to have any chance in the Champions League this time round, it’s going to come down to how well we drill the back-four. The man entrusted with that duty, Steve Bould, will be barking the orders from the sidelines tonight with Arsene Wenger’s suspension, which lasts for three Champions League matches.
It should be an enjoyable outing. Match report tomorrow. Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments.