Arsenal in top form to face Montpellier in Champions League

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Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal players not to pay too much attention to Montpellier‘s domestic problems ahead of their Champions League opener on Tuesday.

Surprise champions in France Ligue 1 last season for the first time in their history, Montpellier seem to have lost the momentum that took them to the title, losing three of their first five league matches.

Arsenal, by contrast, have hit form, winning 2-0 at Liverpool and then thrashing Southampton 6-1, but Wenger says their opponents will draw on extra motivation for what will be the club’s first ever Champions League game.

“I know (Montpellier coach) Rene Girard and Montpellier very well,” he said in Monday’s pre-game press conference.

“I’ve had some battles here. It’s always very physical, very Mediterranean, and very charged. They’re a team with good control of the game and intelligence.

“We’re used to playing away from home in the Champions League. They’re always real combats. We always expect the other team to give everything, and we’re rarely wrong.”

Wenger has already played an unwitting role in Montpellier’s malaise, having taken their top scorer from last season, Olivier Giroud, to the Emirates Stadium during the summer.

However, the Arsenal manager does not believe Montpellier’s current misfortune can be explained solely by the loss of one influential player.

“Apart from Giroud, they have the same base of players so I can’t see why they’d be less strong,” he said.

“I think having the Champions League in their heads has had a big effect since the start of the season. Sometimes it’s difficult.

“When you talk about experience at a club, it sometimes means being able to concentrate on your immediate objectives.

“Sometimes when a club plays in the Champions League for the first time, they focus on it too much and forget about the championship.”

Wenger promised to make “one or two changes” to his side but refused to reveal whether or not Giroud will start.

The France international has gone four games without a goal for his new club and was relegated to the bench for the Southampton game on Saturday.

Gervinho took his place and responded with two goals and a man-of-the-match performance, and the Ivorian said he would be happy to reprise the role against Montpellier.

“Wherever I play, having the faith of the coach allows me to be more relaxed on the pitch,” said the former Lille forward.

“I don’t mind playing up front. Scoring goals for a striker always does you good.”

Italian goalkeeper Vito Mannone will deputise for the injured Wojciech Szczesny, while Wenger has to make a decision on whether or not to hand a start to Abou Diaby after the French midfielder overcame a hip complaint.

Wenger must watch the Group B match from the stands at Stade de la Mosson, as he begins a three-game ban for confronting the referee following his side’s elimination at the hands of AC Milan in the last 16 last season.

“I’d prefer to be on the touchline, because that’s where I feel comfortable,” he said. “But we’ll talk about solutions to potential problems before the game and then I’ll leave it to (assistant coach) Steve Bould.

“I’m frustrated, but I don’t think it’ll be an excuse for a bad result.”

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