Nervous Arsenal lucky to emerge unscathed from their French test


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The Independent Online

Arsenal's record of never having lost a tie away to a French team survived a lively night against a club playing their first European Cup tie who deserved a draw from it. Montpellier took the lead from an early penalty, then conceded twice in quick succession to Lukas Podolski and Gervinho before missing some late chances as Arsenal were forced back for most of the second half.

The London side, who have reached the second stage of the competition for the past 12 seasons, usually come through the opening group match – it is now seven wins and two draws from nine such occasions – but this ended up as one of the more nervous ones. One cause of satisfaction was that Olivier Giroud, though he has still not scored since his £9.7m transfer from Montpellier, justified his selection by having a hand in both Arsenal goals.

Arsène Wenger sat next to Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis in the steep main stand, serving the first of a three-match ban for having abused the referee after elimination from the Champions League by Milan last season. He had made the most important decision the previous day, deciding that Giroud should start against the team for whom he scored 20 goals last season, helping them to a first French title.

In only the eighth minute Thomas Vermaelen as an experienced international defender should have known better than to lunge at Younès Belhanda, who was drifting away from goal and was right on the edge of the penalty area. One of Uefa's extra assistants was close enough to consider it a foul and Belhanda stood up and calmly chipped in from the spot, right down the centre as Vito Mannone moved to his right.

On quarter of an hour, a fine short passing move flowed through Abou Diaby, Santi Cazorla and Giroud, who played in Podolski for an efficient finish – the German's third goal in successive games. In almost the next attack Giroud was again involved, setting up the adventurous right-back Carl Jenkinson to cross low and give Gervinho a tap-in.

Montpellier – currently languishing towards the bottom reaches of Ligue 1 – had looked a better side than their recent form suggested and twice in quick succession Arsenal's lead was threatened by Rémy Cabella. He shot wide after Diaby dallied on the ball and then from fully 25 yards out chipped against the bar with Mannone groping. There was then a late shout for a penalty as Diaby challenged Cabella but finally the 900 ravelling fans had a victory to celebrate.