Arsenal still vulnerable despite derby boost

LONDON Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:16pm IST

Arsenal's Santi Cazorla (C) celebrates with team mates after scoring against Tottenham Hotspur during their English Premier League soccer match at the Emirates stadium in London November 17, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Arsenal's Santi Cazorla (C) celebrates with team mates after scoring against Tottenham Hotspur during their English Premier League soccer match at the Emirates stadium in London November 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal are buzzing after their resounding victory over north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur but they go into Wednesday's Champions League home clash with Montpellier aware that any slip could be costly to their last 16 hopes.

Before the 5-2 rout of Tottenham on Saturday the Gunners were coming under fire after some patchy form including a 2-1 away defeat at Manchester United, a 3-3 home draw with Fulham and a 2-0 home reverse against Schalke in the Champions League.

The defeat by Schalke was Arsenal's first at home to foreign opponents since 2003 but they drew 2-2 with the Germans the following week, having led 2-0, to stay well-placed to progress as one of the top two sides in Group B ahead of Olympiakos.

Having conceded 14 goals in their last five games in all competitions, however, there remains an air of vulnerability about Arsenal which French champions Montpellier, despite being unable to progress, will be keen to exploit.

Victory for Arsenal, their first at home against French opposition in the Champions League, combined with a Schalke defeat of Olympiakos will see Arsene Wenger's side through to the knockout rounds for the 13th season in succession.

Any other combination of results will mean Arsenal, a point behind Schalke and a point ahead of Olympiakos, could still face a nervy deciding night in Athens on December 4.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said confidenece had returned just in time for the visit of Montpellier.

"We couldn't get a better time to play that game," Szczesny, who returned from a two-month injury absence against Tottenham, told Arsenal's website (www.arsenal.com).

"We are buzzing, we can't wait for the next game. We're confident. We've had a couple of poor results recently, but we're back on track and we're confident that we can get the three points and qualify for the knockout stages.

"We want to make sure we do the job properly and qualify."

Striker Olivier Giroud will also be relishing a meeting with his old club after four goals in his last three games have helped the Frenchman settle following a tricky start in London.

Arsenal are also boosted by the return to fitness of Jack Wilshere and the form of Santi Cazorla, who was outstanding against Tottenham.

"His touch, his vision is a joke. He's a dream to play with. He never gives the ball away and he's creative, he's busy around the pitch, he's a joy to play with," Wilshere said of the Spaniard.

LEARNING CURVE

Montpellier's first outing in the Champions League has gone downhill ever since Younes Belhanda's early penalty put them ahead against Arsenal on matchday one before the visitors hit back to seal a slightly fortunate 2-1 victory.

They have managed just one point in the group, a 2-2 draw at Schalke, and bottom place looks almost certain but coach Rene Girard says the match is still an important one especially as his side aim to defend their Ligue 1 title.

Montpellier currently sit 11 points behind leaders Olympique Lyonnais.

"The Champions League is over for us and Europa League is almost over. But these games are important for us and we cannot afford not being at full gear because these matches have made us grow," Girard told Reuters.

"Everything that has happened in this competition has helped us learn. The physical impact, the rigour, it will definitely be useful for our campaign in the French league.

"It is a big game, we will not play at the Emirates stadium every day. There also small things at stake: bonuses for a victory, points for the UEFA coefficient. Everything is important."

Montpellier are without Benjamin Stambouli because of a virus while forward John Utaka and full back Garry Bocaly are sidelined by injuries and striker Souleymane Camara is suspended.

Arsenal: 1-Wojciech Szczesny; 3-Bacary Sagna, 4-Per Mertesacker, 5-Thomas Vermaelen, 6-Laurent Koscielny; 14-Theo Walcott, 10-Jack Wilshere, 8-Mikel Arteta, 9-Lukas Podolski; 19-Santi Cazorla; 12-Olivier Giroud.

Montpellier: 16-Geoffrey Jourdren; 12-Daniel Congre, 3-Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, 4-Vitorino Hilton, 5-Henri Bedimo; 23-Jamel Saihi, 13-Marco Estrada; 10-Younes Belhanda; 20-Remy Cabella; 9-Gaetan Charbonnier; 8-Anthony Mounier.

Referee: Firat Aydinus (Turkey)

(Additional reporting by Dimitri Moulins in Montpellier; Reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by Tom Pilcher)

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