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Champions League Match Preview: Montpellier HSC vs. Arsenal

Carl absolutely cannot dance a lick
Carl absolutely cannot dance a lick

Montpellier HSC vs. Arsenal
UEFA Champions League Group Stage Match 1
Tuesday, September 18, 2:45 PM EDT
Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, France
Form: Mhsc DLLWL | Ars DDWW
Television: or Fox Soccer Plus (subscription req. for both)

Arsenal travel to the Mediterranean coast of France for their first Champions League clash of the year tomorrow against reigning Ligue 1 champions Montpellier HSC. La Paillade, however, are not playing much like defending champions right now, having secured only four points from their first five league matches this year with a minus-two goal difference to boot. (This probably cannot all be pinned on losing Olivier Giroud--or can it?)

Come with us after the jump to find out about injuries and probable rosters and other fun things like that!

Arsenal will be without no. 1 keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who has been suffering from an ankle injury for a little while now. Lukasz Fabianski is also injured, so Vito Mannone will get the nod in the net for tomorrow, which isn't a horrifying thought, as he looked solid in the two Premier League matches he played two and three weeks ago. Backing him up, due to Champions League squad rules, will be the club's no. 5 keeper, James Shea. Arsene Wenger had this to say about Vito:

"Vito is very close to the number one jersey, and he gets another opportunity now," said Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.



Making his return to the squad, and probably to the starting XI, will be Abou Diaby, who had sustained a small knock playing for France last week. His place in the 18-man squad for tomorrow comes at the expense of Mr. Andrei Arshavin. Other than the two keepers and long-termers Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, and Emmanuel Frimpong, Arsenal are healthy.

However, they will be under the managerial gaze of a certain Mr. Steven Bould tomorrow, as Arsene Wenger will be serving the first of his three-match UEFA ban for getting all up in the grill of referee Damir Skomina at the conclusion of last year's exit against AC Milan. So it'll be a while until Wenger can be involved on matchday while he sits in the timeout chair.

As for Montpellier, they are, at the moment, playing mostly like a poop version of themselves, even though they're not missing any key pieces due to injury. Star midfielder Younes Belhanda is a bit concerned about the club's lack of form:

"If we play like this, we're going to concede eight," Belhanda said. "We have to show as quickly as possible that we are men, because we look like kids on the pitch. We're not dangerous, not sharp enough."

--Source: Fabien Perrin, ESPN Soccernet

Manager Rene Girard isn't feeling a whole lot better. From the same source:

"We should be ashamed of ourselves", he said after the Reims defeat. "For the first time, I am asking a lot of questions of myself. They [the players] have forgotten some values."

So they're full of confidence right now, it seems. Arsenal must be careful not to play down to HSC's form, though; previous European trips to destinations in France haven't been as non-tricky as they could be. If the Gunners focus and work like they did on Saturday against Southampton, though, they should be fine, especially as HSC's defense has basically been clownshoes (literally--they wear clown shoes) (just kidding; they do not wear literal clown shoes).

Arsenal's 18-man squad for the game looks like this:

Vito Mannone, James Shea, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Andre Santos, Olivier Giroud, Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski.

Give that there were only two off-days between this match and Southampton, and given the importance of the fixture coming up on Sunday against Manchester City, some rotation must surely be expected for tomorrow. Aside from Mannone, one would expect Laurent Koscielny to get a starting nod (and maybe even get one against City this weekend; even as Per has looked great, I worry about his lack of pace against Tevez, Silva, Aguero, and whomever else Mancini throws out there). Diaby should slot back into midfield for Francis Coquelin. A big question will be whether Aaron Ramsey starts--it's hard to see how he would start in place of Santi Cazorla right now, unless Wenger wants to give him a rest--Ramsey could possibly start on the wing if Wenger wants to get crazy. Of course, so could Cazorla.

It's also pretty likely that Olivier Giroud will get the nod, back in his former home stadium, and because dang it, he needs to get some form going here, and it makes a lot more sense to try to do that against the porous back line of HSC than against incent Kompany. Also, I'm feeling Walcott for the right tomorrow; it's about time he got a start, and he does love a Euro match against a scattershot back line. Gervinho and Poldi will get much-deserved rests and maybe a little featurin' off the bench.

Predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Diaby; Ramsey-Cazorla-Walcott; Giroud.

Match prediction: Arsenal score early through Olivier Giroud, who celebrates by running out of the stadium entirely, then through the deserted midweek-evening streets of Montpellier, down to the wharfs, where he meets up with an early-70s Alain Delon. Together, they plot the kidnapping and ransoming of a humble son of a boulanger, only to find that cinematic tension and expert use of soft lighting do NOT win you Champions League matches. Both return to the stadium just in time for Delon to set up Walcott's sealing goal, before he vanishes into thin air. Arsenal win 2-0.

Related: Szczesny out; Diaby in | Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!