While Arsenal has now qualified for the Champions League in 15 consecutive years, defending Ligue 1 champions, Montpellier, will be making its first appearance in the competition when the two teams meet on Tuesday in Group B play.
How's that for contrast?
The visiting Gunners come into this match red hot, having won their last two matches by a combined score of 8-1 while remaining undefeated in Premier League play. The same cannot be said for the home side, who have lost three of five matches to start the Ligue 1 campaign and have looked nothing short of a mess at times.
Still, this one promises to be a well-played, evenly matched affair. Let's take a closer look at this intriguing Champions League clash.
Where: Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, France
When: Tuesday, September 18 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Most Important Player to Watch: Olivier Giroud, Arsenal
If he plays, he's the guy you'll want to watch. The former Montpellier striker helped lead the side to a Ligue 1 title last season and was sold to Arsenal in the summer.
But, he's struggled thus far for the Gunners, failing to score and missing on several excellent opportunities. His positioning and effort have been good, but he's obviously pressing and flailing at his attempts.
Still, a match at his old home stadium could do him good. While I'm sure he would have liked to score his first goal for the Gunners earlier in the season, doing so against his old side in the Champions League would certainly be sweet.
Key Matchup: Montpellier Attack vs. Arsenal Defense
In a surprising twist from last season, it has been the Gunners' defense that has been its strongest unit. The team has conceded just one goal in four league games, allowing the Gunners to salvage two ties to open the season while the attack found a rhythm after the departure of Robin van Persie.
Scoring hasn't necessarily been a huge problem for Montpellier—the eight goals they've conceded after five games is a bigger worry than the six they've scored—but Giroud's replacement up top, Emmanuel Herrera, has yet to gel with his teammates or find the flow of the attack.
The Gunners have been stingy this year, so if Herrera is a non-factor, Montpellier are going to struggle to find the back of the net in this one.
What They're Saying
Montpellier is a bit of a mess to start the season. Herrera and the other new signings have struggled, and as Tom Williams of Pitchside Europe writes, the players even seem at odds with one another early in the year:
Trepidation has taken hold in the Montpellier ranks—there was an altercation between Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Marco Estrada after Friday's game, and the players have been instructed not to talk to the media. René Girard has been at a loss to explain his side's shortcomings. "I'm very disappointed. I'm not used to blaming my players, but what's happening to us at the moment is quite distressing," said the Montpellier coach on Friday. "It's the first time that I find myself asking lots of questions. We've lost our values. I'm choosing my words carefully, but we can be ashamed of ourselves tonight."
Arsenal haven't been very good away from home in the Champions League proper, winning just three matches (to eight losses and two ties) when they travel.
But given Montpellier's recent struggles—and the fact that Arsenal is the more talented team on paper—it's hard to bet against the Gunners. Arsenal won't keep the clean sheet in Montpellier, but they escape with the win, 2-1.
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