Jack Wilshere scored his first goal in almost two years as Arsenal booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with victory over Montpellier.
Over a year of injury-ravaged frustration was etched on Wilshere’s face as he celebrated poking the Gunners ahead in the 49th minute before Lukas Podolski sealed the win with a stunning volley on 66 minutes.
Schalke’s win over Olympiakos on Wednesday night means that Arsenal are guaranteed a place in the second round ahead of their final Group B fixture in Athens on December 5.
It was a low-key but efficient display from the Gunners as they recorded their first home win against French opposition in 15 seasons in the Champions League against a hard-working yet toothless Montpellier side.
There were, however, some furrowed brows on the Arsenal bench during a turgid first half in which the hosts lacked intensity off the ball and failed to find any rhythm in their passing and possession.
In the 10th minute, Arsene Wenger’s side nearly opened the scoring but Laurent Koscielny’s header rattled against the crossbar after he met Wilshere’s fine cross from the left.
The only other half-chances of note in the first period fell to Podolski, who scuffed wide after robbing a Montpellier defending of possession and then could not wrap his foot around the ball after latching on to Santi Cazorla’s pass.
Arsenal responded to Wenger’s half-time team talk after the break as they came out with far more verve and creativity, with Cazorla and Wilshere in particular looking to open up the visitors’ defence.
In the 49th minute, the Gunners broke the deadlock as Wilshere scored for the first time since his strike in the 4-2 victory over Aston Villa on November 27, 2010.
Thomas Vermaelen floated in a dangerous right-footed cross that former Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud headed down perfectly for Wilshere’s run. The midfielder made the finish look simple as he flicked the ball over Montpellier goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren.
Jourdren would have been forgiven for diving out of the way of the strike that all but sealed the result in the 67th minute. Podolski worked a clever one-two with Giroud and struck a scorching volley from 12 yards that seemed to be increasing in speed as it slammed into the back of the net.
Giroud almost made it three against the club for which he scored 25 goals last season late on, but the Frenchman’s low right-footed strike was saved by Jourdren as the angles narrowed.
The £12 million man was applauded by all corners of the ground as he was substituted six minutes from time. Job done for Arsenal but tougher challenges will await as they progress to the knockout rounds for the 13th consecutive season.