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.
"There is a positive energy in this team — a desire to play, a desire to play well together and real team play so it is very exciting."
It just needs a goal from Giroud to really get the feeling this could be the season Arsenal breaks its seven-year trophy drought.
"As far as my first goal, I'm not worrying about it. It will come very soon," Giroud said. "It's very important for a striker to score for confidence. Now there are not too many worries about it as the team is doing well, and the team is the most important thing."
Wenger will watch the game from the stands while he serves the first of a three-match ban for confronting the referee following last season's last-16 loss to AC Milan.
Arsenal should welcome back Abou Diaby from a hip problem that forced the in-form midfielder to miss the Southampton match, but Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is absent with an ankle injury and Russia winger Andrey Arshavin isn't in the squad.
Montpellier winger John Utaka has a small tear in his right thigh and is out.
Schalke, a surprise semifinalist in 2011, travels to Olympiakos boasting an unbeaten record in the Bundesliga but with losses in its previous four opening games in Champions League campaigns.
After a 2-0 win at promoted Greuther Fuerth on Saturday, coach Huub Stevens said: "Now comes the cauldron in Greece. We'll play at full throttle.
"The atmosphere will be intensive, the supporters will spur their team on. You look forward to that."
While many Greek teams have let their star players go this summer under the weight of a financial crisis that has engulfed the nation, Olympiakos has managed to hold on to most of its talent and has three wins from three matches in the Greek league.
Leonardo Jardim's side has already opened up a seven-point lead over main rival Panathinaikos, but the Portuguese coach urged his players not to get carried away.
"It's very important to have a strong start in the Champions League. This game is all about preparation," he said after Olympiakos' 2-1 win at Giannena on Saturday.
Jardim rested captain Vassilis Torosodis, the valued Greece defender, at the weekend ahead of Tuesday's game.