Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, is back on familiar ground, in his home country and leading the club's 15th successive Champions League campaign, although in an unfamiliar position. He will watch tonight's opening group match against the French champions Montpellier from the stand, serving the first part of a three-match touchline ban after his fierce criticism of the referee following Arsenal's brave attempt to overcome a 4-0 deficit from the first leg against Milan last March.
"I'd prefer to be on the touchline, it's where I feel most comfortable," he said last night. "But we'll talk before the game and from there I'll leave it to [assistant manager] Steve Bould, who's very experienced. I'm frustrated but I don't think it would be an excuse for a bad result."
The French champions' story is an astonishing one of a club from a provincial rugby town who had never won anything more than two French Cups but suddenly flourished last season and, on the back of 20 goals from Giroud, rose from 14th place the previous year to pip the infinitely wealthier Paris St-Germain.
Yet the miracle of Montpellier may prove to be anything but a lasting one. Already this season they are back in more familiar territory, 16th in the league with a single victory from the opening five games. The coach, René Girard, once in charge of France's Under-21s and the architect of last season's triumph, has options; it is just that they are not as enticing as those of Wenger, who believes the consolation of losing Robin van Persie – apart, of course, from the fee £24m fee – is that Arsenal's play is more "diversified" instead of invariably being channelled towards one Roy of the Rovers figure.
There are four or five contenders for the two wide positions while Van Persie's central striking role has become a revolving door that Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho have all passed through.
Vito Mannone will be back in goal, not because Wenger was horrified by Wojciech Szczesny's error that gave Southampton their goal on Saturday but because both the Pole and his compatriot Lukasz Fabianski are injured. It was the only time in four games that a defence now drilled by Bould has been pierced and, for all the fervour of a crowd likely to be close to a capacity 32,000 tonight, Arsenal will not expect to lose.Reuse content