Arsenal defeated Montpellier by two goals, and honestly it wasn't that close, as Arsenal were able to create plenty of chances but only able to finish twice. It was a good all-around performance, and with Schalke 04 defeating Olympiakos in Germany Arsenal have qualified for the knockout round of the Champions League for the thirteenth straight season. Which isn't too bad.
The first half was shaky, at times inspired, and mostly annoying. Arsenal had issues in the passing game, with more passes misplaced (under little or no pressure) than you would typically expect from an Arsenal team, but Montpellier were entirely unable to capitalize. Arsenal were able to create several chances when they weren't giving the ball away, and honestly could have scored up to three times before the halftime break. Alas, they went in with none, but the defense had held.
The second half was almost entirely different. The passing game was not perfect, but improved vastly over the first half performance. Arsenal continued creating chances, but managed to put a finishing product in as well. The breakthrough came four minutes after play resumed. Thomas Vermaelen, playing as left back as Kieran Gibbs made the bench for the first time in weeks, crossed the ball into the box from the early left flank, and Olivier Giroud rose to head the ball down. His headed pass found its target, and Jack Wilshere danced into the box and chipped the keeper. The commentator had a completely appropriate summary of the situation:
"Wilshere, with the first goal of his second coming..." Steady on, old bean.— Fredorrarci (@Fredorrarci) November 21, 2012
He is risen, I suppose. The match commentator mentioned that it was the 400th goal in Arsenal's history of European competition, which is a lot of goals and a fun milestone.
About fifteen minutes later Lukas Podolski doubled the Arsenal lead, with one of the best goals the team have scored this year. He played a give-and-go with Giroud, whose return pass was a spectacular weighted lob over the Montpellier defense. Podolski lashed a volley shot into the top of the net, as he does. It was beautiful football, and really something to see. Here again, an interesting note from our commentators: Podolski and Giroud together now have as many goals as Robin van Persie had at this point last year. In this way, at least, it appears that the strategy of replacing him with multiple players has not been a failure, particularly as Giroud has looked better and better as the season has progressed.
After the second goal Arsenal basically choked the game off, and Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, and Gervinho all came on to strengthen the defense and do whatever it is Gervinho does in a game like this. Ramsey played particularly well, keeping the ball well and moving between the right wing and the middle of the pitch to strengthen the team's shape as needed. He didn't have a ton of time to affect the game, but he managed to do so anyway.
This was a good win and a meaningful win for Arsenal, and a good way to continue the momentum that they got from thrashing Tottenham over the weekend. Next up is Aston Villa, and a game that Arsenal have to win if they want to keep me from going completely mad.