ARSENAL QUALIFIED for the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Montpellier tonight.
The Gunners’ path to next February’s round of the last sixteen was confirmed after their win over the French outfit and Schalke’s 1-0 win over Olympiakos in Germany.
Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski scored the goals at the Emirates Stadium which means that the home side can now concentrate on moving up the Premier League table.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had told his side pre-match they could not afford to relax against already-eliminated Montpellier. A win for the Gunners, combined with victory for Schalke over Olympiakos, would send them through to the last 16.
Arsenal went into this match buoyed by a superb 5-2 win over near neighbours Spurs on Saturday.
This match was vital to Arsenal’s season; it was a competition that they narrowly failed to win in 2006.
While in west London Chelsea were looking for their umpteenth manager, after the shock sacking of Roberto di Matteo earlier in the day, the red and white side of north London were still believing in manager Arsene Wenger’s Euro strategy.
Arsenal winger Theo Walcott missed this Group B fixture and was replaced by another flying winger with an eye for a goal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Walcott, was joined in the stands by Andre Santos. However, left-back Kieran Gibbs and Ivory Coast forward Gervinho returned from injury to make the Gunners squad.
The first period was nondescript to say the least and to some degree resembled the last poor home effort in this competition against Schalke.
An early Laurent Koscielny header hit the Montpellier woodwork and the home side looked set to put the France outfit under immense pressure. It did not prove to be the case.
In fact Arsenal were nearly a goal down when Anthony Mounier broke clear only to be denied by the outstretched hand of the diving Gunners ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Moments later, Oxlade-Chamberlain went on a mazy run that was only denied by desperate Montpellier tackles on the edge of the box.
Thereafter Arsenal’s Germany international, Podolski, was to test the French team’s rearguard on two occasions.
On 30 minutes, after a rampaging run out of defence by Koscielny, the striker fired wide when in with a chance of opening the scoring.
Seven minutes later, he was to put another – more difficult chance – disappointingly wide too.
On a cold night which signalled winter’s return, Arsenal’s half time cuppa obviously had something special in it!
They took the lead after just four minutes of the restart when after good work by both Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal skipper Thomas Vermaelen crossed the ball into the Montpellier area, the ball was neatly knocked down by Olivier Giroud and Wilshere provided the finish.
While the first goal was a decent team effort, the second was all the work of Podolski on 63 minutes. After yet good more work by Giroud, Podolski – nicknamed the Hammer -fired home a volley from 12 yards which gave Geoffrey Jourden in the Monpellier goal no chance.
It was a job well done for Arsenal and news of Schalke’s win cemented a satisfactory night for Wenger’s men.