Montpellier vs. Arsenal
La Mosson, Montpellier, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Four months after leading Montpellier to one of the more improbable European titles in recent memory, Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud returns to La Mosson for a match that’s bound to inspire mixed feelings.
“I spent a beautiful, wonderful season there last year when we were champions and won the title,” Arsenal’s new 25-year-old striker told Arsenal Player. “It will be difficult for me to play against Montpellier, because there is a lot of emotion …”
It’s unclear how that emotion will manifest in the crowd. Getting $19.5 million for him this summer, Montpellier received a windfall for a player who was in the French second division two years ago. The fans, however, could see the departure as a player quickly abandoning a club that helped him become a star.
“I hope to receive a good reception from the Montpellier fans, because I finished the top goal scorer there last season and worked hard for the title,” Giroud said. “I think the reaction will be good, but there may be some people who will boo maybe. It is always like this.”
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This all assumes Giroud plays. He’s yet to score in a competitive match since moving to Arsenal, something which leaves manager Arsene Wenger uncertain as to whether the former MHSC man will start.
“I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good,” Wenger said, having left Giroud out of his starting XI this weekend against Southampton, a decision that could portend to Giroud starting on Tuesday.
Wenger is one person who will not be on the field at La Mosson. The Arsenal boss starts serving the first of a three-match touchline ban incurred for confronting officials after the Gunners’ elimination to Milan in last year’s knockout stage. Still fuming over the suspension, Wenger labeled UEFA “clueless.”
What he’ll miss is a battle between two clubs with vastly different Champions League resumés. Montpellier is making their first appearance in the competition. Arsenal is making their 15th straight, having progressed to the knockout round in 12 consecutive seasons.
Further tilting the scales, Arsenal has never lost at a Ligue 1 club in Champions League. They’ve also yet to lose this season in England, while Montpellier took four rounds to record their first Giroud-less win.
Olympiacos vs. Schalke 04
Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Like Arsenal and Montpellier, Olympiacos and Schalke have never met, so if we’re looking for insight into how these teams match up, we’ll need coincident results. Last season, German champions Borussia Dortmund were drawn into Olympiacos’s Champions League group and proceded to lose 3-1 on their trip to Piraeus. Arsenal would fall to an identical score, and with Olympiacos 3-0-0 out of the gate in Greece (with a +6 difference), there’s no reason to think the Greek champions have taken a step back.
Schalke is off to a hot start of their own, earning seven points from their first three games. Having already posted seven goals, concerns over the loss of Raúl’s 15 may prove unwarranted (the Spanish icon got hooked up with direct deposit with Al Sadd in Qatar). Lewis Holtby, Julian Draxler and Jermaine Jones, who combined for seven goals last season, have already found net four times. Huub Stevens has scarcely needed new acquisitions Ibrahim Afellay and Tranquillo Barnetta.
The question is whether Schalke can hold up at the back. Having only allowed two goals thus far, the team may be slightly improved on last year (when Christoph Metzelder got half the starts ahead of Christian Fuchs). Olympiacos’ Rafik Djebbour may provide their stiffest test to date. The 28-year-old Algerian has started the Greek season with four goals.