LONDON (AP) — Energized by a new midfield maestro and prolific forward, Arsenal finds life after Robin van Persie is going better than expected as the English club begins its latest attempt to win the Champions League for the first time.
Yet while Spain playmaker Santi Cazorla and Germany international Lukas Podolski have slipped seamlessly into Arsenal's lineup at the start of the season and already creating goals, there are worries over whether another expensive summer signing — Olivier Giroud — will adapt so well.
Giroud, a direct replacement for Van Persie, remains without a goal for his new team ahead of Arsenal's Group B opener at Montpellier — the team the France striker left for a reported fee of 12 million pounds in June.
He was dropped by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for Saturday's home match against Southampton, which the Gunners won 6-1 to climb to third place in the Premier League. But he could return for the trip to the Stade de la Mosson, where he made his name last season by finishing as top scorer in the French league with 21 goals as Montpellier won an unlikely French league title.
"It feels strange — it's like destiny," Giroud said. "But it's a good thing. I didn't have time to say goodbye to the Montpellier public. It will be very emotional for me.
"I will have to put the emotion and sentiment behind me for 90 minutes and do the job, which is to win this match."
Montpellier is one of three competition debutants in this season's Champions League, along with Malaga and Danish club Nordsjaelland, and comes into the match having won just one of its first five games in the defense of the league title.
"What is happening at the moment is a bit depressing," Montpellier coach Rene Giraud said. "We need to waken up quickly because, if not, we are going to be in for a big fall on Tuesday against Arsenal. We are conceding silly goals. It is quite worrying."
With Arsenal the clear favorite to top the group and qualify for the knockout stage for the 13th straight season, Montpellier is set to battle it out with Schalke and Olympiakos to clinch the other spot in the second round.
If Montpellier defends like it did in the abject 3-1 loss to promoted Reims on Friday, Arsenal could have a field day — especially considering the stylish way Cazorla is running the team's midfield and the early potency shown by Podolski.
Cazorla has been one of the Premier League's star players after four rounds following his move from Malaga, and looks the ideal replacement for Cesc Fabregas in the attacking midfield role.
"The way we play is a very continental style, so it gives them a good chance to adapt very quickly," Wenger said. "Cazorla is a player who is just a pleasure to watch. You want him to have the ball. I think he typifies what the midfielders in Spain are today — technically perfect, great vision and a great team attitude.