Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Montpellier in the Champions League on Wednesday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and French journalist Julien Laurens for their views.
League champions tend to focus upon ball retention and dominate games, but Montpellier’s stunning title triumph last season was achieved with a more basic, direct style of football. Olivier Giroud was their target man, and he received long balls before laying the ball back to onrushing midfielders.
Replacing Giroud was an impossible task. The signing of Argentine Emanuel Herrera was a brave move, but after some disappointing performances in front of goal, Rene Girard has looked elsewhere, using Souleymane Camara up front in the Champions League.
He’s a pacy winger by trade, so it’s roughly the equivalent of Arsenal using Gervinho as a centre forward – and this significantly changes Montpellier’s strategy with the ball, as they look to Camara darting into the channels, rather than to a classic No 9 with his back to goal.
In a 4-2-3-1 system, the holding midfielders will stay in position, playing simple passes from side to side. On the flanks, Girard likes variety. He’ll probably use Remy Cabella – a creative midfielder that ex-Gunner Robert Pires has recently praised – on one flank, in conjunction with a quick winger on the opposite side.
Unquestionably Montpellier’s main threat is their No 10, Younes Belhanda. A product of their youth system, Belhanda had a fine partnership with Giroud last season, and enjoys breaking forward from midfield to receive knock-downs from the main striker.
Although he operates high up the pitch, he’s capable of coming deeper into midfield to receive possession from the holding players, and likes to initiate one-twos in order to get himself into goalscoring positions. He comes alive near the edge of the penalty area, where he can pass neatly, dribble rapidly or shoot early. Keeping the Moroccan quiet is Arsenal’s main defensive job on Wednesday.
Belhanda opened the scoring in the reverse fixture with a cheeky chipped penalty – he’s done that on more than one occasion, but his spot-kicks are usually slid low to the goalkeeper’s right. However, if the keeper moves too early, that’s when he pulls out the Panenka.
JULIEN LAURENS, LE PARISIEN
Montpellier are already out of the competition and the match is more important for Arsenal than for them. They’re looking for a good performance because they’ve been struggling this season. There’s a lot of tension around Montpellier and they could do with a good performance. A win at Arsenal would kick-start their season and calm everything down. I expect them to be very competitive.
It was a big surprise when they won the league last season. They lost Giroud and they’re struggling to find another goalscorer. Tomorrow a young player called Gaetan Charbonnier could start but he hasn’t got much experience. Last season everything went their way and that’s not the case this season. They’ve had injuries and suspensions to key players.
Remy Cabella was really good in the first game and will be their main player. He’s very skilful, he’s got pace and is exciting. He’s the guy to watch. Arsenal struggled against him in the first game and I think Vermaelen against Cabella will be one of the key duels of the game.
Defensively, there is often a lot of space behind the Montpellier back four and they have also struggled to dictate play in midfield. I think they’ll defend well on Giroud because they know him well but whoever plays wide for Arsenal will hold the key to the game.
I think Arsenal will win 3-1.
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