Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger and his side face Montpellier at the Stade de la Mosson on Tuesday so, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and French journalist Philippe Auclair for their pre-match views.
When winning Ligue 1 last season, Montpellier’s attacking play was largely based around Olivier Giroud.
The striker finished as joint top goalscorer in the division, but was equally impressive with his hold-up play, combining excellently with attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda. Giroud departed for north London in the summer, of course, but coach Rene Girard has otherwise largely kept his squad intact.
Montpellier are not a side who dominate possession heavily – when winning Ligue 1 last season they averaged 51 per cent of possession, only the seventh highest figure in the league. This season, it’s down slightly to 49 per cent.
Arsenal will see the majority of the ball and push high up the pitch, which means Giroud will be important - he thrives in the penalty box, rather than on the break.
His replacement at Montpellier is Argentine Emanuel Herrera, who shares many qualities with his predecessor – he’s tall, is a natural No 9 and brings others into play well, although he’s less powerful than Giroud.
The main threat is Belhanda, who will play between the lines and test Arsenal’s ability in that zone more than any opponent so far this season. He’s not dissimilar to Santi Cazorla – not overwhelmingly fast, but quick over the first couple of yards and clever with his appreciation of space. Formerly a defensive midfielder, Belhanda is also capable of scrapping, and can get past opponents with either trickery or power.
On the flanks, the injury to left winger Jon Utaka is a big blow for Montpellier, as he had been the only ever-present outfielder this season. Karim Ait Fana or the more direct Anthony Mounier will replace him.
Souleymane Camara will offer a goal threat from the right, and both wide players will offer their full backs significantly more protection than Southampton did on Saturday.
French international Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was surprisingly omitted for the 3-1 defeat to Reims at the weekend, but will return in the centre of defence. He’ll be partnered by either left-footed Brazilian veteran Hilton, who lacks pace at 35 and could be vulnerable to counter-attacks, or right-sided Daniel Congre.
Overall, Arsenal might have to be patient in possession and resist throwing too many players forward, which would open up space for Montpellier to break into. But the French champions haven’t adjusted to life without Giroud, sitting down in 16th place in Ligue 1, and Arsenal should get a result in France.
There is actually quite a lot of uncertainty about Montpellier's starting line-up. They may go for Emanuel Herrera, their Argentine striker, who they signed from the Chilean first division. In truth he has had a rough time. His nickname is 'The Tank' and sometimes he has the first touch of one - but he scores goals and his record is not that bad at all at club level.
Last season they were playing something of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Younes Belhanda in a playmaker role just behind the striker. But it really does depend on whether Herrera plays. A big plus for them is having central defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa back, who didn't play at the weekend against Reims. They had a terrible game there and looked dysfunctional. They looked like their minds were on something else - which may very well be tonight.
I really don't know what to expect from Montpellier. I don't know whether what has happened in the league so far this season [they have won one game in five] is a consequence of their success, but Olivier Giroud's departure has certainly hurt them a great deal. Everything went through him and he hasn't really been replaced.
They had the best defensive record in the league last season but the key figures of that backline have stayed. You just wonder what on earth has actually gone wrong. It is a very odd combination of factors and we have not seen what this team can do.
As champions people expect them to have a lot of the ball and dictate play. But against Arsenal, who will have more of the ball, they may be able to counter-attack. That is perhaps better suited to the quality they have at the moment. I cannot see any other result than a quite clear Arsenal win away from home. Rationally, looking at the squads and atmospheres at both camps, it would take an awful lot for Montpellier to suddenly transform themselves. I will say a 2-0 or 3-0 victory for Arsenal.
But Montpellier, in their words, want to make it "hell" for Arsenal. Maybe this game could inspire a group of players to perform for the fans they were so close with last season? It could completely liberate them. At the moment there is no indication which way it could turn.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source