The Premier League outfit showed resolve after going behind to Younes Belhanda's audacious eighth-minute penalty, with Olivier Giroud struggling to impress against his old side.
The Ligue 1 champion went ahead through an audacious penalty after just eight minutes, before two goals in as many minutes saw the game switch in the Gunners’ favor as first Podolski and then Gervinho showed good composure to give their side the lead at the break.
Abou Diaby, Vito Mannone and former La Paillade striker Olivier Giroud returned to the Arsenal starting lineup in three changes from the team which comfortably beat Southampton 6-1 at the weekend, as Montpellier made six changes from the team which lost 3-1 to newly promoted Stade de Reims.
In an intimidating start in Stade de la Mosson - where the remnants of a multitude of pre-match flares floated menacingly over the pitch - the Champions League debutant was handed a foothold in the game when Thomas Vermaelen’s clumsy challenge upended Belhanda inside the area. The Moroccan international picked himself up and dinked a cheeky penalty past the helpless Mannone for his club’s first goal in the competition.
The lead did not last long - just seven minutes in fact - as slack defending allowed Santi Cazorla and Giroud to combine and play in Podolski for a neat finish from 16 yards.
Arsenal took the lead just two minutes later when another fantastically well-worked goal. Started and finished by Gervinho - who has been excelling in a more advance role by Wenger this season - the Ivorian set Carl Jenkinson free down the left before ghosting past more halfhearted defending from the home side to collect the left back’s low cross and tuck the ball past Geoffrey Jourdren.
Responding impressively after going behind, Arsenal looked dangerous on every building attack whereas, at the other end of the pitch, their French opponent was having to make do with pot-shots from distance.
Aside the clever through-ball for Podolski’s equalizer, Giroud was not having the most successful of returns to his old club – much industry but little end product, which was summed up by a twisting run into the area before flashing the shot from 12 yards past the near post in the final action of the first half.
Montpellier came out stronger after the break and was almost gifted another goal when Diaby tried to trick his way out of trouble in his own penalty area and allow Remy Cabella to pinch the ball off him but fire high and wide.
The home team upped the ante and again went close when Cabella spotted Mannone off his line and attempted a glorious chip from over 25 yards that thwacked off the deputizing goalkeeper’s bar and into touch.
In an attempt to make up for his earlier mishap, Diaby embarked on a surging run just after the hour mark that took him past three Montpellier players before feeding Cazorla for a stinging drive that Jourdren could only push away.
As the game entered the final stages the French outfit showed the much-needed urgency that lacked throughout the majority of the game and it was that man Belhanda who was the fulcrum.
That was no more evident than when the attacking midfielder switched the play out to the right before receiving the ball inside the area, skipping past the feet of Per Mertesacker, but soon had his head in his hands after hitting his shot straight at Mannone from eight yards.
His side's chances of victory evaporated along with the smoke from those simmering flares.
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