Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Montpellier scouting report & team news

Montpellier had an amazing season last year, where they managed to defy all expectations and win the French Championship for the first time in their history. At the heart of the side was Olivier Giroud, who finished the season with 21 goals and 9 assists, and since his departure to North London in the summer, the French Champions have struggled this season.

In fact Montpellier have recorded only 1 home victory all season, and find themselves languishing in 14th place in the league. They have also plummeted in the Champions League, and are already out of contention in Group B, picking up only one point so far in the competition.

Yet, being the French Champions, they cannot be underestimated, and following last months disappointing home defeat to Schalke, Arsenal simply have to pick up all three points tonight. Montpellier are still looking to kick-start their season, and will come to England with no fear and nothing to lose, which could cause problems for an Arsenal side that has conceded 14 goals in their last 5 matches.

They are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is the preferred choice for manager  René Girard. The "2" in central midfield remain slightly static, and provide a protective screen for the defence which has leaked a number of goals so far this season. This leaves the creative spark to come from further up the pitch and thus Montpellier prefer to play more a more direct style of football. In defence, the main main is defnitely Yanga M'biwa who has developed into one of the best defenders in French football over the last few years, attracting interest from a whole host of clubs, even Arsenal.

M'biwa is very adaptable and can play in a number of positions along the defensive line, but he is best in the middle. His strength and pace make him a match for many strikers and he certainly gave former teammate Giroud a physical encounter in the reverse fixture in September, and will be keen to replicate that performance this evening. In fact the captain is also keen on getting something out of the game, and is confident his team can achieve something from tonight's fixture, saying "We are the French champions, Arsenal is a big and difficult rival but we want to offer the best image we can in the Champions League. Arsenal are very strong at the Emirates, but we want to beat Arsenal on Wednesday and if they want the three points they will need to sweat for them."

The departure of Giroud has left a big gap in the Montpellier attack, and his successors have struggled to make a great impact in the starting eleven this season. In fact tonight, due to injuries, Girard may be forced to pick the very inexperienced Gaetan Charbonnier up front. With this transition in place, they are arguably less of a threat down the middle, and have to rely on other creative players this season rather than a big number 9. Therefore the two players which are most likely to create havoc among the Arsenal defence are Younes Belhanda and Remy Cabella. 

The creative threat is supplied by Remy Cabella out wide, a direct winger with pace to burn. Cabella was very impressive in the last game, tormenting Santos with his skill and speed, and there could be a repeat performance tonight against Thomas Vermaelen, who has struggled at times this season when filling in at left back. Cabella has 17 appearances for the French under 21 side, and at 22 can definitely progress into a top player. He has been one of the bright sparks for Montpellier this season, with 3 goals and 4 assists in his 9 league starts. In fact his form attracted the attention of former Arsenal wide man and French international, Robert Pires, who recently sung the praise of the exciting Cabella. The 38 year old said: “I’m enjoying the performances of Rémy Cabella at Montpellier this season, He’s carried on from where he left off last season. He has character and can go a long way, that he doesn’t let the pressure of big games get to him. I hope he can continue enjoying himself and gain more experience. 

He also stressed the importance of Belhanda to the side,  and the partnership him and Cabella could create together, saying "I think Cabella and Younès Belhanda can kick on from last season, when they helped Montpellier pip PSG for the title. Both have real quality."

Belhanda was an inspiration last year, and along with Giroud was one of the main reasons why Montpellier became French Champions. Playing just off the striker, he likes to find spaces in between the midfield and defence, but is not afraid to make runs forward from midfield either. The Moroccan international has an excellent passing range, and really comes to life in and around the penalty area, where he can demonstrate his keen eye for a pass or devastating shooting.

Belhanda, a product of their youth system, is definitely the dictator of the French side's tempo, and often comes deep to collect the ball before passing out wide or driving forward himself. Arsenal will be all to aware of his threat form set plays too, following his chipped penalty which gave Montpellier the lead in the corresponding fixture in September.

In terms of Arsenal team news, there have been two changes to the squad which demolished Tottenham at the weekend, with Walcott and Santos picking up injuries. They are set to be replaced by Gervinho and Gibbs who return to the squad and are in contention to feature. Arsenal have really missed Gibbs over the last few months, and his return can help solidify the leaky defence.

With Walcott injured, Chamberlain, who made an impressive cameo performance at the weekend, is set to start out wide, but the rest of the side is still something of a mystery. Tonight might be a bit too soon for Gibbs, whilst it remains to be seen whether Wenger can trust Jack to start three games in a week. There have also been mooted discussions surrounding whether Jenkinson might start in place of Sagna, who himself is returning from a long term injury.

Arsene is definitely keeping an eye on Saturday's tough trip to Villa Park, but he has been somewhat reluctant to drastically rotate the squad in the Champions League this season, and with qualification far from being attained it is likely we will see few changes from Saturday.

Giroud will be keen to continue his fine form against his former club, and was highly praised by Wenger in the pre match press conference, who believes that something has seriously ‘clicked’. There are still question marks as to whether Giroud will ever reach the heights of Arsenal forwards that have gone before him, and his back up in forward positions is somewhat pitiful. Personally I do doubt that he can ever be a player that can score 25+ goals a season. But Giroud has proved that he is a very competent Premier League player, and definitely has an eye for a goal too. His aerial prowess is second to none right now, and he is always improving it seems.

A win is all that matters tonight, and Arsenal will have to be on top of their game to make that happen. Taking the confidence form Saturday's victory into the next few games is a necessity as we are yet to properly kick-start our season I think. Putting together a run of wins is vital and is something we haven't done since the last time we best Tottenham. We can start that run of wins tonight, and hopefully achieve qualification in the process, making that trip to Olympiakos slightly easier.

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