LONDON (Reuters) - Jack Wilshere’s first goal since returning from a long-term injury and a Lukas Podolski thunderbolt gave Arsenal a 2-0 victory over French club Montpellier on Wednesday and put them through to the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare.
Podolski wasted two great chances in a frustrating first half as Arsenal looked to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat by Schalke in their previous home game in the competition, but the Gunners turned on the style after the break.
Midfielder Wilshere broke the deadlock at the Emirates after 49 minutes with a close-range finish and Podolski made sure of the points with a superb volley just past the hour.
Disappointing French champions Montpellier offered only a sporadic threat as their slim hopes of a consolation place in the Europa League vanished.
Arsenal moved to 10 points, one behind Group B leaders Schalke whose 1-0 defeat of Olympiakos ensured that the London club will qualify for the knockout rounds for the 10th consecutive season under manager Arsene Wenger.
Buoyed up by a morale-boosting 5-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday’s north London derby, Arsenal began brightly and nearly went ahead after 10 minutes when Laurent Koscielny thumped a powerful header against the crossbar.
It took the home side 20 minutes to threaten again when Montpellier failed to clear a ball in their area and Podolski weaved across the area before sliding a shot just wide of Geoffrey Jourdren’s right-hand post.
Podolski went close again a few minutes later when his left-foot effort flew agonisingly wide of the other post after Santi Cazorla’s clever pass released him.
Montpellier, who had needed to win their final two matches to have any chance of finishing third in the group, were well organised but lacked attacking threat.
A couple of breakaways and a few long-range shots were all they had to show for a tepid first half although they did manage to frustrate the home side who were seeking a first home win against a French club in the Champions League.
Olivier Giroud, who has recently shown signs of the goal-scoring prowess that persuaded Arsenal to sign him from Montpellier in the off-season, helped to unlock his old club after the break.
His header from Thomas Vermaelen’s cross in the 49th minute allowed Wilshere to open the scoring, the England midfielder stretching out his leg to poke a shot past Jourdren for his first Arsenal goal for two years following a 14-month lay-off with an ankle injury.
Just past the hour Giroud linked up with Wilshere and played a one-two in a congested area with Podolski, teeing up the German perfectly to lash a textbook volley past a flailing Jourdren.
Arsenal went close to extending their lead with Cazorla forcing a fingertip save from Jourdren and Giroud was also denied late on by the keeper. (Editing by Clare Fallon)