Montpellier vs. Arsenal: Rating the Gunners' Players in Champions League Opener

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Montpellier vs. Arsenal: Rating the Gunners' Players in Champions League Opener
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Well, that was exciting!

Into the Valley of Death rode the Arsenal XI this morning or, more particularly, into the anarchic melting pot of hostility and vitriol that is the Stade de la Mosson, packed to the rafters with so many aggressive Frenchmen baying for blood that one would be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled upon a reenactment of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations.

The Gunners produced a display that was true to their recent form both in positives and in negatives and will head to the Etihad Stadium with a well-earned but far from faultless 2-1 victory on the books.

It took two excellent pieces of Arsenal teamwork to crack the volatile Montpellier defense, and while a 2-1 victory doesn’t necessarily indicate the kind of supremacy we might demand from our Gunners, it also flatters the French side, and there are a lot of positives to take from the match.

Arsenal’s attacking play was swift, assured and—perhaps most importantly—instinctive. The players are cultivating a kind of telepathic understanding based around a core group of established players who are beginning to adapt their games to accommodate the various summer purchases.

What was lovely about this game was how well-versed the Gunners appeared to be. The team has been championed somewhat ever since the Liverpool game, but cases could be made that, even then, the game was won largely on the strength of several excellent performances, namely those of Abou Diaby, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski.

The 6-1 rout of Southampton was probably exactly what the team needed from a confidence perspective, but that match was not an exercise in pushing the team's strength and skill.

At Montpellier, however, the odds were at least somewhat against us.

While Arsenal’s start to the season has been significantly better than that of the French champions, this was an away tie with an uncertain starting XI against a backs-against-the-wall team with a lot to prove, who had been riled up by their own manager in the press all week and whose fans (particularly when viewed through the green netting separating them from the playing field) hold a shocking  resemblance to the adrenaline-fueled zombies from I Am Legend—albeit zombies that don’t groan but rather, er, whistle. Extremely loudly.

I would like to take a sheepdog to watch a French sporting event—it would be very interesting.

Anyway, the obligatory generic summary paragraph leading into the slides: Arsenal won, and they played well—not that well, admittedly, but given the circumstances this is not overly surprising. The team will take the positives and the three points and head back to the Old Country not quite unsullied, and not quite unchallenged, licking wounds which are merely skin-deep but mindful that their two biggest challenges of the month lie in the seven days ahead.

In the immortal words of, er, Kirsten Dunst (sentence I thought I’d never write No. 34)...

Bring it on.

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