London: Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1 in an end-to-end game at Champions League debutants Montpellier on Tuesday, as Arsene Wenger's side made a winning start to their Group B campaign.
The Ligue 1 champions went ahead through an audacious penalty after just eight minutes, before two goals in as many minutes saw the game switch in the Gunners’ favour as first Podolski and then Gervinho showed good composure to give their side the lead at the break.
Remy Cabella hit the bar for Montpellier, who gave Arsenal several uneasy moments, and despite the result, the hosts' display belied a difficult start to their Ligue 1 title defence that has seen them beaten three times already.
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 debutants were 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.
Montpellier barely had time to gather their senses before Arsenal struck again, as Gervinho ghosted into the six-yard area to convert Carl Jenkinson's low cross from the right.
In response, Cabella drew a save from Mannone with a low drive, while Giroud threatened to open his Arsenal account just before half-time with a volley from a Kieran Gibbs cross that flew wide.
Montpellier came out stronger after the break and were 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 hosts upped the ante further and again went close when Cabella spotted Mannone off his line and attempted a glorious chip from over 25 yards that thwacked off the deputising goalkeeper’s bar and into touch. 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.