For a long, long while last season it looked like this was a day in the calender that would not concern those at the Emirates, but as Arsenal begin their 15th consecutive Champions League campaign there is a feel-good factor surrounding the club that hasn’t been too evident over recent years.
As Europe’s premier club competition gets underway with Matchday 1 on Tuesday, few Gunners fans will be dwelling on the fact that Arsenal are lucky to be in the tournament at all this year: a dreadful start to the Premier League last season left Arsene Wenger’s men with it all to do, but do it they did by overhauling rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who let slip the ten point advantage they held in late February to allow Arsenal to claim third place.
Instead, the Arsenal fans making the relatively short trip to France to to watch their team face Montpellier will do so with some confidence. Even the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United can’t entirely spoil the Gunners’ fine start to the season, where they lie in third place, unbeaten after four games and just two points of early pace-setters Chelsea.
Two fine, if very different, consecutive victories over Liverpool and Southampton have seen Arsenal click into gear after two rather stodgy performance in successive goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke, and those wins have shown the best elements of Wenger’s team.
Ruthless on the counter attack and defensively solid in the 2-0 win over the Merseysiders at Anfield, Arsenal blew Southampton away in a 6-1 win that was reminiscent of some of Wenger’s best vintages and the Frenchmen will return to his homeland on Tuesday with some satisfaction as he assesses the start of the season.
Not that Wenger will be overseeing proceedings at Stade de la Mosson: in a remarkable rise, Steve Bould, who was under-18’s coach just six months ago, will take charge of the side in France as Wenger serves a touchline ban – his third in little over a year – for comments made about the referee after Arsenal crashed out to AC Milan last season. But if Wenger is only looking on from the stands, his players can still be entrusted to do the job and I like the look of Arsenal at 23/20 here. The draw is 11/5 while Montpellier are priced up at 12/5 but there are enough reasons to oppose the hosts and side with the travelling Gunners.
Montpellier might be the French champions, but La Paillade aren’t playing like the best team in France and the start of their Ligue 1 campaign has become after the Lord Mayor’s Show. Rene Girard’s side have taken just four points from their first five domestic league matches and have looked anything but defending champions.
Montpellier have failed to keep a clean sheet all season, and having let in eight goals they look vulnerable against an Arsenal side that is finding their shooting boots again after a difficult start to the post-Van Persie era. But with Santi Cazorla coming to the fore, even the travails of Olivier Giroud, who has struggled since moving to the Emirates from Montpellier in the summer, haven’t been too detrimental.
In fact, Giroud’s former club are missing him rather more than you might think, and the French international’s 21 league goals in Montpellier’s title winning season don’t seem to have been adequately replaced, and with Arsneal looking in far better shape physically and mentally, the 23/20 on an away win is the bet.
Recommended bet: Arsenal @ 23/20
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