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Arsenal defeat Montpellier to progress yet again

Wednesday 21 November 2012 22.50 CET
Lukas Podolski takes the acclaim after scoring Arsenal's second against Montpellier

Arsenal FC qualified for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 with a match to spare thanks to an assured home victory against Montpellier Hérault SC, now guaranteed to finish bottom of Group B.

An improved second-half display from Arsène Wenger's side was graced by goals from Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski, both of which came virtue of former Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud's assists and capped moves of sumptuous quality. Having managed a single point from their double-header against FC Schalke 04, Arsenal's win – combined with the Bundesliga team beating Olympiacos FC – carried the Gunners beyond this stage for the 13th successive season.

After an uncharacteristic flurry of misplaced passes at the start of the game, the hosts struck the crossbar in the 11th minute through a powerful Laurent Koscielny header. However Montpellier, encouraged by a vociferous travelling contingent, were showing sufficient commitment to please coach René Girard and offered a sporadic threat on the counter.

The visitors were also doing an admirable job of restricting the supply lines to Giroud, top scorer for the French champions in Ligue 1 last term. Podolski looked more likely to break the deadlock but, having dispossessed Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, the German international slid a right-footed shot wide.

Having kept Giroud quiet before the interval, Montpellier were undone by the forward's first significant intervention four minutes after the restart. The French international's knockdown from a Thomas Vermaelen cross was met by Wilshere – showing great energy for one so recently returned from 17 months out with an ankle injury – who concluded a fine move with a deft left-footed finish for his first competitive goal since November 2010.

Wojciech Szczęsny saved from Rémy Cabella as Montpellier attempted to get back on terms, but it was 2-0 soon after the hour. Giroud was again the provider, delightfully scooping the ball up into the perfect area for Podolski to run onto and hammer in an unstoppable left-footed volley from the edge of the box.

Wenger's men were now in full flow and goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren was required to deny both Santi Cazorla and Giroud. Montpellier, whose substitute Emanuel Herrera went close late on, now have one more chance to record a first win in their debut UEFA Champions League campaign, when they host Schalke on matchday six. Arsenal travel to Olympiacos knowing they will top the section if they win and Schalke drop points.

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