Champions League match report: Jack Wilshere fires reminder of what all the fuss was about at Arsenal

Arsenal 2 Montpellier 0

The Emirates Stadium

The longer Jack Wilshere was away the more his reputation grew to the extent that when he returned to action last month it was a surprise his No 10 shirt did not have “Saviour” stencilled on the back. Wilshere's subsequent dismissal as Arsenal slumped to defeat at Manchester United underlined how overblown some of the hype was but last night the young Englishman reminded everyone there is substance to his billing.

Wilshere's tackling may still reflect an inevitable rustiness in his timing, as does some of his passing, but the way he read Olivier Giroud's knock-down against Montpellier and the deft manner in which he converted the opportunity underlined his quality. It was Wilshere's first goal for almost two years and his joy was evident – as was that of the home support.

Wilshere's 49th-minute goal broke Montpellier's resistance just as it was threatening to derail Arsenal's customary progress to the last 16 of the Champions League. Buoyed by his strike they sealed victory with a superbly taken second from the Germany forward Lukas Podolski. That, together with Schalke's 1-0 defeat of Olympiakos in Germany, means Arsenal qualify with a game in hand, changing the status of their 4 December tie in Greece from worrisome to relaxing.

Victory in Piraeus could still be helpful as it might enable Arsenal to come first in the group and thereby avoid the risk of running into Barcelona in the first knockout round again, but as Schalke would also have to lose in France the same night that seems unlikely. Besides, Cristiano Ronaldo lurks in the second pot, and possibly Zlatan Ibrahimovic as well.

"Statistically it is better to come first so we will play to finish top of the group and take a full-strength side," insisted the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. In the same breath he added the need to manage Wilshere's comeback, so it remains to be seen how strong that team will be.

Of Wilshere, Wenger said: "After such a long time out it was great to see him get stronger and stronger. He had a difficult start but after the goal he was more confident. He defended much better too."

It was not just Wilshere who took a while to get going. Sometimes a team carries the momentum gained from a coruscating win in a big match into the next game, beginning as they left off, ripping into the opposition with brio and confidence. At other times the physical effort and emotional toll of the first game results in a flat performance in the second. This was one of the latter times. Arsenal left the Emirates on a high on Saturday after coming from behind to beat their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 5-2, but last night they suffered cold turkey. There were thousands of empty seats at kick-off and while most slowly filled the stadium remained quiet. Montpellier, a largely unknown team struggling in Ligue 1, brought no aura with them. Arsenal would have to inspire their fans, not the other way around.

But Arsenal frequently conceded possession and moved the ball ponderously. With the resurgent Theo Walcott ruled out with the shoulder injury incurred at the weekend (a worry given his previous fragility in that area) they lacked penetration. Montpellier, their European adventure all but dead, were content to sit back and wait for the chance to counter-attack.

Arsenal should have sparked the match into life early on when Laurent Koscielny escaped his marker to break on to a Thomas Vermaelen cross but he headed against the bar when he ought to have scored. Two minutes later in the goalkeeper's only significant action of the first hour, Wojciech Szczesny sprinted quickly from his goal to dive at the feet of Montpellier's Anthony Mounier.

Thereafter the game became a midfield stalemate until Koscielny stepped out from defence to create a chance from which Podolski should at least have tested Geoffrey Jourdren. Four minutes later the German had another opening created by Santi Cazorla, but again shot wide.

The breakthrough came with a goal more from the playbook of Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis than Wenger. Vermaelen worked space on left, his cross was expertly nodded down by Giroud, and Wilshere reacted first to dink the ball over Jourdren. It could have been John Radford and Charlie George of long ago, or Alan Smith and Mickey Thomas of more recent vintage.

Fourteen minutes later the home fans could start thinking about when they should leave to beat the Underground queue. Receiving a pass from Podolski, Giroud chipped an exquisite return pass which the German lashed into the roof of the net. Both the pass and the finish were reminiscent of that Dutchman now playing at Old Trafford.

That sealed Arsenal's 13th successive qualification for the Champions League knockout stages. "I'm very proud," said Wenger. "It is not the most glamourous thing but it is not as easy as it looks. Few teams do it." The next step, of course, is turning qualification into triumph. "We'll have to improve to have a chance," said Wilshere and Wenger concurred. "It is November now, we play again in March. Hopefully Jack will be stronger and the team will be stronger."

* Shakhtar Donetsk’s Luiz Adriano has been charged by Uefa for disrespecting opponents Nordsjaelland by scoring an uncontested goal after a drop ball. Uefa opened a disciplinary case against the forward for “violation of the principles of conduct” in Tuesday’s Champions League match in Denmark. The case will be judged next Tuesday.

Man of match Cazorla.

Match rating 6/10.

Referee F Aydinus (Tur).

Attendance 59,760.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit