Two goals in three minutes earned Arsenal FC a comeback victory at Montpellier Hérault SC in their UEFA Champions League Group B opener.
Having won Ligue 1 last season, coach René Girard was asked what his next dream was in Monday's pre-match press conference. "To swim like Michael Phelps," came the reply; 24 hours later it was a case of sink or swim for his squad, who so very nearly kept their heads above water. Younés Belhanda's impudent penalty gave the tournament debutants a ninth-minute lead, but two strikes in three minutes from Lukas Podolski and the in-form Gervinho ensured Arsenal, who weathered a formidable second-half storm, made the perfect start.
Though Montpellier initially allowed Arsenal to dictate, the hosts did at least show a readiness to break quickly. Belhanda eagerly charged onto a searching pass before his flight was halted by Thomas Vermaelen's ill-advised lunge. Unruffled, Belhanda chipped in the spot kick with more than a dash of derring-do.
Such was the bravado of the Moroccan international, the fact that this was Montpellier's competition bow was quickly forgotten. Arsenal, however, delivered a swift, brutal reminder.
The home fans who warmly applauded Olivier Giroud before kick-off would have felt somewhat less charitable towards the striker who helped them win last season's title when his first-time pass teed up Podolski to conclude a hypnotic passing move. The French international's persistence then played a part in the ball running to Carl Jenkinson, whose overlapping run ended with a low cross turned in by Gervinho for his first UEFA Champions League goal.
Montpellier's sting seemingly drawn, the game, and the previously boisterous supporters, were calmed only to erupt once more when Rémi Cabella, darting in from the right, fizzed a low shot goalwards. The faintest of touches from Vito Mannone was just enough to prevent the equaliser. The Arsenal goalkeeper should have been called upon again shortly after the break when Cabella robbed the dallying Abou Diaby, yet the Montpellier midfielder fired recklessly into the crowd.
The lack of composure in the 22-year-old's shot was all the more surprising given, soon after, he casually clipped a lob from distance which came back off the bar. That relief was shared by Montpellier fans when goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren beat away Santi Cazorla's angled effort. The travelling contingent must have barely been able to look when Belhanda found himself in front of goal only to shoot hurriedly at Mannone; cue relief for Arsenal.
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