Montpellier vs Arsenal: 5 Predictions for Gunners' Champions League Opener

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst ISeptember 17, 2012

Montpellier vs Arsenal: 5 Predictions for Gunners' Champions League Opener

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    After an emphatic 6-1 win over Southampton in the fourth game of the Premier League, Arsenal look to start strong in the Champions League, as well.

    In their first game, they take on Montpellier HSC away from home at the Stade de la Mosson in France. This is by no means an easy match considering Montpellier are the defending champions, though they are struggling at the moment with just four points in five games.

    It certainly doesn't help that Rene Girard's side lost their top scorer and Golden Boot winner Olivier Giroud, who of course moved to the Emirates this summer.

    With Schalke and Olympiakos the other two clubs facing off in Group B, the Gunners will surely have the realistic goal of winning almost every game and they look to get ahead tomorrow in France.

    Here are five predictions for their first Champions League fixture.

Arsenal Starting XI

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    The Gunners will most likely line up in a 4-3-3.

    Goalkeeper: Not only did Szczesny do quite poorly in his few involvements against Southampton, he seems to have picked up an ankle injury. To replace him in goal, Mannone will be starting. He has kept two clean sheets so far this season.

    Defenders: I expect that Wenger will go with his normal back four of Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Gibbs unless he feels that the bigger players should be rested for the huge match against Manchester City this weekend. However, it is unlikely that he will deviate from his regular defence.

    Midfielders: Abou Diaby is almost 100% fit for tomorrow's tie, so he will provide a boost in the midfield, returning for his replacement Francis Coquelin. As usual, the two midfield maestros Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta will be looking to create opportunities for the men up front.

    Forwards: Though he didn't start against Southampton, Olivier Giroud will most likely play tomorrow, as he is going back to the stadium of his old club. On the left wing, le Professeur will deploy Podolski, while playing Saturday's star performer Gervinho on the right.

Younes Belhanda Will Cause Problems for the Arsenal Defence

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    Younes Belhanda is one of the best creators in the Ligue 1. He is a player with more than just one dimension, possessing the deadly combination of vision, passing, dribbling and pace. Belhanda, who was injured for a while at the beginning of the season, is probably the number one man Wenger is looking to shut down.

    The Moroccan international will undoubtedly love to find space in the middle of the pitch, running at the back four—especially Vermaelen and Mertesacker—trying to cause an error and feed one of his strikers, such as John Utaka.

    The center back pairing have a tough task of marking this man and still keeping an eye on any forwards making sneaky runs behind the defence. Fortunately, the French champions don't have the threat of Olivier Giroud in the middle.

    Beware of Younes Belhanda.

Arsenal Passing Will Be Great Again

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    While Arsenal were passing in beautiful triangles, combining in quick-touch plays against the Saints, Arsene Wenger may have been cool on the outside. 

    But inside?

    In his mind, the Frenchman must have been giggling and yelling "Encore" and "Ole!" feeling that at certain moments this was the kind of football that he has been striving to produce.

    One combination comes to my mind when I recall the great passing on Saturday. It was on the left wing, Cazorla, Podolski and Gibbs formed a triangle in a play that ended in a decent shot from outside the box.

    One thing they did very well was releasing Gibbs down the wing after a string of passes and that is what Jenkinson should look to do more often.

    It will be very interesting to see what kind of passing approach Wenger wants to take against the Montpellier midfield, whether he wants to possess or look to hit people through right off the bat.

    I predict that the passing will once again be great.

A Goal for Giroud

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    This is what the fans want. 

    Giroud came to Arsenal supposedly as an addition to Robin van Persie, but of course he wasn't. He was a replacement, along with Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla.

    And, so far, he has failed to meet expectations.

    He missed a few easy chances and was not started against Southampton, but it is too early to say the he is a flop for Arsenal, although some have already been saying that.

    I predict that Giroud will score against Montpellier, probably off of a header, but he won't celebrate and the fans will treat him with respect.

    Will he finally score?

Arsenal to Win 3-1

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    All in all, I think the Gunners definitely have the upper hand here.

    The biggest thing going in Montpellier's favor at the moment is home field advantage, while Arsenal look relatively strong on all fronts.

    I expect Arsenal to have the ball most of the match and I think goals from Vermaelen, Podolski and Giroud will outpace Montpellier, managing only a single John Utaka goal.

    Mapou Yanga-M'Biwa will be great, but he doesn't have that many great players alongside him, which showed in a 3-1 loss to Reims over the weekend.

Conclusion

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    Arsenal are the favorites right now for this match.

    I think that were this not the first Champions League game of the season, most people would be looking ahead to the Manchester City fixture over the weekend, but the opener of a tournament is always a momentous event.

    It will be a good game, but I just don't see Montpellier beating the Gunners, even at home.

    Please leave your comments and feedback.