Arsenal beats Montpellier 2-0, qualifies in CL
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) Jack Wilshere's first goal in two years and a sumptuous volley by Lukas Podolski earned Arsenal a 2-0 win over Montpellier in the Champions League on Wednesday, clinching the English team's passage to the knockout stage for the 13th straight year.
Montpellier was knocked out of Europe by two fine second-half strikes that maintained the host's proud record in the competition, although Arsenal still has work to do to finish top of the group, above Schalke.
"That's 13 times in a row - it's not the most glamorous thing but it's the most difficult, being consistent at this level," said Wenger, whose team has gone on to reach the final only in 2006 when it lost 2-1 to Barcelona.
After a first half low on quality, Wilshere brought Emirates Stadium to life in the 49th minute by flicking home a deft finish from Olivier Giroud's nod-down. It capped a fine display from the young midfielder, who played the full 90 minutes for the first time since returning from long-term injury.
Podolski gave winless Montpellier too much to do by rifling in a sensational 63rd-minute volley after exchanging a one-two with Giroud, a former player of the French team.
Assured of a top-two finish, Arsenal will go into its last Group B game - at Olympiakos - a point behind leader Schalke. Both sides will want to finish top to secure what would likely be an easier last-16 match.
Wenger said he would be taking a full-strength side to Greece in a bid to go through in first place.
"If you look at some groups, you don't really know if it's better to finish first or second," Wenger said. "But overall, statistically, it's better (to be first) and you feel you've done your job better."
Montpellier is guaranteed to finish bottom in its first season in Europe's top club competition.
Podolski's strike was good enough to grace any occasion, the Germany forward meeting Giroud's floated pass with a powerful strike that flew past goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren from the edge of the area. It was reminiscent of some of the cleanly struck volleys scored by Robin van Persie during his time at Arsenal.
But it will be Wilshere's goal - his first since a 4-2 victory over Aston Villa in the English Premier League in November 2010 - that will arguably delight Arsenal fans more.
The young England midfielder has recently returned from a lengthy spell out with myriad injuries and is seen as vital to Arsenal's chances of winning a first piece of silverware since 2005.
"It was important to get an early goal in the second half and I was in the right place at the right time," he said. "We have to step it up. Tonight wasn't good enough, especially the first half."
Arsenal's record in the Champions League - advancing from the group every year since 2000 - is something Wenger uses against critics who slate him for the team's lack of trophies.
The Frenchman's side has maintained that record, adding to the confidence that had been boosted by a 5-2 win over Tottenham in the north London derby in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Gunners were slow to get going against Montpellier, Laurent Koscielny powering a header against the bar in the 11th minute and Podolski dragging a low shot wide with their best chances.
The cutting edge came in the second half, allowing Arsenal a stroll to the final whistle.
Updated November 21, 2012