The French View: Montpellier feel Olivier Giroud’s absence more than Arsenal notice his presence
Montpellier’s first ever Champions League match ended in disappointment after losing 2-1 to an efficient Arsenal side at the Stade de la Mossan last night.
The mercurial talented Younes Belhanda orchestrated most of the Ligue 1 champion’s play, and put the homeside ahead with a coolly taken ‘Panenka’ penalty.
Unfortunately for the Champions League debutants, the lead was short lived, as their English counterparts hit back in clinical fashion with a quickfire double from former Lille man Gervinho and Germany international Lukas Podolski, which ultimately sealed the three points for the 2006 finalists.
After losing three out of their first five Ligue 1 matches and conceding eight goals in the process, including three against newly-promoted Reims in their last match, Montpellier’s faithful followers could be forgiven for thinking defeat was inevitable.
However, despite living in the shadow of Carlo Ancelotti’s big spending Paris Saint Germain side, the southern French city of Montpellier stands eloquently proud after its football team showed it possesses the spirit and artistry to compete with Europe’s elite.
Through Belhanda, who has been linked with a big money move to the Premier League in the past 12 months, the homeside pressed and largely dominated the second half, but couldn’t find a way past a stubborn Arsenal defence.
Before the match, much of the focus was on Arsenal’s £13m man, Olivier Giroud, who signed for the London outfit from Montpellier in the summer. The 25-year-old, who last year scored 21 times for the French champions, was a forlone figure for the majority of the game, and despite setting up Podolski’s goal with a clever flick, the 6ft 4 in forward rarely threatened his former side’s goal.
Last year’s Ligue 1 Golden Boot winner has failed to score for Arsenal in five outings this season, and after the hosts squandered good opportunities late in the second half, it is safe to say Montpellier suffered from his absence far more than Arsenal felt his presence.
The Stade de la Mosson crowd showed their affinity and appreciation towards Giroud, giving their former hero who fired them to their maiden Ligue 1 title a standing ovation as he was substituted mid-way through the second half.
Despite the defeat, Rene Girard’s men can take a lot of positives from the game against an Arsenal side who are undefeated in their last eight away matches against French opposition and have qualified for the knockout stages of the competition for the last 12 years.
Belhanda showed why he has been linked to Europe’s top clubs, and 22-year-old Remy Cabella impressed immensely on his Champions League debut.
The real test for Girard’s side will come in the next three matches against German side Schalke and a double-header against Olympiakos. Those are the games that will decide the fate of Montpellier’s Champions League campaign, and if they perform with the same spirit, confidence and fight, they will stand a good chance of progressing further in the competition.Tagged in: Arsenal, Champions League, Olivier Giroud
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