Arsenal: Predicting Starting Side for Champions League Opener vs. Montpellier
Arsenal will kick off their 2012-13 UEFA Champions League campaign with an away trip to Montpellier, the former club of striker Olivier Giroud, whom the Gunners picked up over the summer transfer window.
Both clubs have yet to be beaten in their respective domestic leagues, with the Gunners picking up a big win on the weekend—thumping six goals past a hapless Southampton side and completely dominating the match from start to finish.
They'll be looking to keep that momentum going as they change competitions and are likely to name a relatively strong squad for their European opener on Tuesday afternoon.
Let's take a look at all the latest squad news for the Gunners and try and put together a starting lineup that we could see against Montpellier.
Goalkeeper: Vito Mannone
After picking up a reported ankle injury in his side's big win over the Saints on the weekend, first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is not included in the 18-man provisional squad that the Gunners traveled with earlier in the week.
Szczesny produced a goalkeeping error to gift Southampton their goal, and his place in the starting side will be filled by Vito Mannone, who has already played twice for the Gunners so far this year in the English Premier League and is yet to concede a goal.
Mannone had a horrendous match in Arsenal's last Champions League campaign against Olympiacos—something that he will be looking to put behind him, and given the form that he's displayed so far this year, you'd have to suggest he's primed for a big match.
James Shea will take his place on the substitutes' bench.
Defenders: Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Metresacker, Carl Jenkinson
The Gunners back four have been solid all season long, and I can't see Arsene Wenger making any significant changes heading into their all-important opening Champions League match—the only potential change being the inclusion of Laurent Koscielny, who is yet to make a start for the North London club so far this year.
Kieran Gibbs has been superb through the opening few Premier League matches, as has Thomas Vermaelen, with the Belgian seemingly relishing the captaincy this year.
Defensive Midfielders: Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta
Abou Diaby was thought to be struggling with a hip injury that could potentially rule him out of this match, but according to the Daily Mirror, Diaby was included in the 18-man provisional squad that left Luton for Montpellier earlier this week.
I can't see him traveling if he wasn't going to be used, and given his strong start to the season so far, I'd say he starts this one.
His relationship with Mikel Arteta has been one of the biggest surprises so far this year—a welcome relief for Gunners fans, who may have been wondering what would happen with the long-term injury to Jack Wilshere last season.
Midfielders: Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Gervinho
There's no point resting your big players for a match like this—the opening game for the Champions League can be incredibly important in deciding whether a team will progress through the group stages of the competition or not. For that reason, expect Arsenal's big guns in midfield to start this game.
Santi Cazorla is proving to be one of the buys of the season so far—dominating the Gunners attack and providing excellent opportunities for all those around him. His fluid passing game and efficient attack will suit the Champions League, and as long as he is firing, Arsenal are in a great position to win whatever match they are involved in.
The same could be said for Lukas Podoksi, who already has two goals and an assist through the season so far. Podolski's international experience will be invaluable in the Gunners' Champions League campaign, and his attacking prowess will continue to be a telling factor through the middle of the field.
I also think Gervinho could get a start here on the right flank—beating out both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott for the starting position.
Goal is reporting that Walcott is under the watchful eye of Wenger to see if he has fully recovered from a virus or not, and I can't see the veteran manager taking a chance on the winger when he has other quality players at his disposal.
Striker: Olivier Giroud
That leaves just Olivier Giroud up front for the Gunners, with the striker desperate to open his scoring for the North London club in this one. He will be up against his old team and his old teammates—giving him both an advantage and a disadvantage in attack, depending on whichever way you want to look at it.
Despite obviously being under pressure, there is little doubt that Giroud is a quality striker and will indeed find the back of the net for the Gunners before long. He is good in the air and with both feet, and as long as his confidence and ability are still there, you have to think it won't take long for the Frenchman to find the back of the net.
After all, he has only played four Premier League matches.
With that starting squad in mind and Arsenal's 18-man provisional squad for the match known, we can extrapolate that the substitutes bench will look something like the list mentioned below.
James Shea, Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott.
What do you think the Gunners starting lineup will be vs. Montpellier?
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