Arsenal vs. Montpellier: Preview and Prediction for Champions League Clash

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IINovember 20, 2012

Feeling good, Arsenal fans? I know it is easy to say that the Gunners are on the cusp of a massive upswing in form after their scintillating 5-2 thumping of Spurs, but we'll have to see the proof before we can get our hopes up.

The first opportunity for Arsenal to show they have what it takes comes Wednesday against Montpellier in the Champions League, and it is a game that holds a lot more than symbolic meaning.

While Montpellier's nightmares in Ligue 1 have metastasized to the Champions League, Arsenal face the real danger of a humiliating group-stage exit.

A point ahead of Greek minnows Olympiakos and a point behind group leaders Schalke, the Gunners' hold on a qualifying spot is as tenuous as can be. A victory against a beatable opponent would go a long way toward ensuring security and making the final matches much less stressful.

If Arsenal do their jobs well, this should not be an especially stressful match either.

The first time the two sides played in France, Arsenal won in fairly comfortable fashion, but they made the game a bit harder than it needed to be by conceding a penalty that Younes Belhanda scored.

If the Gunners' form is truly getting better, they should make it a bit easier for themselves this time.

With their championship team from last season largely gutted (including top goal scorer Olivier Giroud, now of Arsenal), Montpellier have really struggled this season. Despite the presences of Younes Belhanda, Souleymane Camara and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, La Paillade are currently languishing in 16th place.

And their form has predictably not been any better in Europe. With only one point, Montpellier achieved the dubious distinction on the last match day of being one of the first two clubs to be mathematically eliminated from the Champions League.

Coming off a CL loss and two consecutive domestic draws, Montpellier's confidence will not be anywhere near its peak.

And that is exactly why Arsenal should beat them.

With several Gunners, including Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere, appearing to round into form against Tottenham, Arsenal are cresting at just about the right time for a crucial match.

Plus, of course, the home fans will provide a massive boost to their side—especially after the historic trouncing that Arsenal submitted Spurs to last Saturday.

Tuesday will mark the last time that supporters will get to cheer their boys on until the end of November. Arsenal then travel to Villa Park and Goodison Park to navigate two tricky ties against Aston Villa and Everton, respectively.

The good vibes have been emanating from the Gunners' camp since their derby win. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said after the game (via ESPN Soccernet):

We have had a couple of poor results recently, but we're back on track. I know that the fans might have been frustrated over the last few weeks and we understand that completely, but we are buzzing now.

We can't wait to play our next game against Montpellier. We want to make sure we do the job properly and qualify.

And that is all talk that Arsenal fans will be delighted to hear from one of the cockiest men on the team. Having that swagger in the locker room is crucial to maintaining a team's confidence, but it will evaporate instantly if the Gunners botch the Montpellier match.

It is unclear whether Arsene Wenger will stick with the same lineup that worked so well last weekend, but what is certain is that Olivier Giroud will start up front.

Theo Walcott will have to put his dreams of being a striker to the side as long as the Frenchman stays in this rich vein of goal-scoring form.

Giroud's four goals in his last three games (and five in his last five) have endeared him to a fanbase that was reticent toward Ligue 1's top scorer earlier in the season. With the amount of strikes coming from his head, Giroud offers an aerial element that no one else on Arsenal does.

He didn't get a goal on his emotional return to the Stade de la Mosson earlier in the season, but it would surprise few if he struck one past his beloved former club this time around.

Giroud and Arsenal are on the upswing, at least in the short term, but the Gunners never make anything easy—or at least as easy as they should.

Though the Gunners have the advantage on paper in almost every respect and currently have a considerable amount of momentum, Montpellier will certainly not lie down away from home. They are simply too good and too dignified to hand a result to their opponents.

Thus, while I believe Arsenal will emerge victorious at the end of 90 minutes, they will work up a substantial sweat in doing so.

Expect something in the range of Arsenal's first 2-1 win that gets the job done and preserves your nails but makes things a bit tougher than they need to be.

Latent tensions around the Emirates Stadium will be further eased and, possibly, qualification for the knockout stage assured.



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