Schalke 2 Arsenal 2: Spoils Shared at the Battle of Gelsenkirchen
Arsenal put their hopes of gaining a stronghold in Group B on the balance when they lost at home to Schalke a fortnight ago, ending their impregnable home record against non-English opposition as well as losing their status in pole position. After the disappointing loss to Manchester United, the Gunners needed a good result to restore belief and confidence to themselves, as well as leapfrogging the Germans to reach the summit of the group.
Arsene Wenger fielded a strong lineup, as he finally heeded to the pleas of Arsenal fans by axing Andre Santos from the squad, thereby allowing Laurent Koscielny to return to first-team action. This obviously meant that Thomas Vermaelen was drafted into the left back role, a position he plays for his nation from time to time. Theo Walcott also passed a late fitness test to start the game.
Astuto Uchida and Jefferson Farfan wreaked havoc against the Gunners a fortnight ago, and it seemed as if it was business as usual when Uchida got on Vermaelen’s blind side but his lapse in concentration allowed the ball roll over for a goal kick.
Arsenal was very erratic in keeping the ball, which ultimately caused them to pay the price, but Walcott was the first culprit in losing the ball further up Schalke’s half which caused the German side to launch a counter attack. Klass-Jan Huntelaar located the left back, Christian Fuchs, that was in an unfamiliar attacking position but his shot was blocked by Per Mertesacker.
Lukas Podolski lost the ball as well, which led to another counter attack for the home side. After a few quick direct passes, Ibrahim Afellay fashioned a chance for himself but Vito Mannone did well to make a save in his near post.
Arsenal broke the deadlock when Mertesacker lofted the deep into Schalke’s half but Roman Neustadter flicked the ball backwards unto Olivier Giroud’s path. The French forward had only the keeper to beat but he lost his footing in the vital moment. However, Walcott reacted quickest to dip the ball over Lars Unnerstall before guiding the ball to an unguarded net.
That was the eight goal for the Englishman this season and more thoughts of his contract situation has come into light yet again. I hope Arsenal makes him sign da ting soon enough.
Santi Cazorla played a brilliant cross-field ball to Podolski who in turn sent in an early cross into Schalke’s danger area but the ball evaded Giroud and Walcott. Shortly afterwards, Cazorla was brandished a yellow card for a cynical effort to hold onto the ball while falling.
Arsenal was two goals to the good after some neat passing play that was instigated by Cazorla. The Spanish magician teed up Jack Wilshere with a carefully-weighted pass, but the ball was slightly behind the maestro. Wilshere wasted no time in locating Giroud and like the game against West Ham, Giroud found Podolski on the left before lurking forward. The German slipped and found his footing before swinging a cross that was headed home by Giroud.
Farfan stepped up his game, skipping past Vermaelen like he was Andre Santos but Mertesacker was on hand to make another trademark Merteception.
Late in the game, Arsenal shot themselves in the foot yet again when Cazorla lost the ball in midfield. Jermaine Jones dinked a ball for Lewis Holtby whose stabbed pass arrived at Huntelaar’s feet. With the kind of form the Dutch predator is in, no eyebrows were raised when he fired a left foot shot past Mannone to make it 2 – 1.
That goal changed the outlook of things as the first half ended but Arsenal began the second half with an attack that could have led to the third goal. After soaking up some Schalke pressure, Podolski ran with the ball on the left before sending a cross for Giroud. However, the striker made a glorious mess of things when he attempted a volley that sailed over the bar, when a header was a better option.
Huntelaar managed to beat the offside trap and I’d already envisaged a 2 – 2 scoreline in my head but Mannone made himself big to block the Dutchman’s shot. The Schalke barrage continued and there were claims for handball when a shot hit Mertesacker on his trailing hand but he had no idea about it, so the ref rightly gave deaf ears to Schalke appeals.
With Uchida out with an injury, his replacement was Marco Hoger and a turning point arrived in the match when Hoger and Podolski challenged for the ball. After losing the battle to Prinz Poldi, Hoger hit the turf like he’d been shot and Arsenal continued to lay siege on Schalke’s defense.
In somewhat controversial circumstances, the ref blew his whistle for the game to stop, despite the fact that Arsenal was in a promising attacking position. A disgusted Podolski let out his frustrations on an advertising board, receiving a booking in the process, but in my honest opinion, that was bad officiating.
Arsenal were made to rue that missed chance after the conceded the equalizer, courtesy of a Farfan shot / Vermaelen own goal. A cross from the left side saw Holtby get on the end of it to no avail. With the Verm out of position, he ran towards the net while Mannone tried to block Farfan’s attempted shot, which hit the Arsenal captain and went into the net.
With both sides pushing on that killer goal, Arsenal enjoyed some intricate passing play but Cazorla’s attempt on goal was wayward to say the least. Koscielny made a trademark slalom and found Walcott on the clear, but the Englishman was ruled offside. His shot hit the post by the way
The boss brought on Andre Santos and Francis Coquelin to hold onto the draw but Arsenal had the chance to snatch all three points when Walcott was one on one with Unnerstall while Giroud lurked on his left hand side. A simple pass to Giroud would have seen the Frenchman score Arsenal’s winner with a simple tap in, but Walcott choose to take all the glory, and he missed.
With Olympiakos ending Montpellier’s Champions League fairytale adventure with a victory, Arsenal’s qualification to the next round would depend on the Gunners getting maximum points from the next two games. On Matchday 5, the Gunners will host Giroud’s former employers and would keep half an eye on the Schalke vs. Olympiakos fixture.
Mannone (8.0) was unfortunate to concede two goals but he was very assured in goal.
Sagna (7.5) fought really hard on the right and made a lot of decent touches as well.
Vermaelen (6.5) did well to quell the threat Farfan posed, but he offered to service in attack.
Mertesacker (7.0) made a lot of vital blocks in the course of the game.
Koscielny (7.0) didn’t put a foot wrong all game long.
Arteta (7.0) was very industrious in midfield.
Wilshere (6.5) didn’t really stamp his authority on the game.
Cazorla (7.0) was at fault for Schalke’s first goal but he still had a good game by his standards.
Walcott (7.5) had a well-taken goal and should have teed up Giroud right at the death.
Podolski (8.0) was a tireless worker on the left flank and capped it up with a brilliant assist.
Giroud (7.0) did well to get into a very dangerous position to head home his first Champions League goal.
Andre Santos and Coquelin didn’t play long enough to get ratings.
After the game, Wenger stated that his team had shown a good response and as expected, he was barraged with a couple of questions from the media Vultures, where he gave his take on Walcott and Mannone’s performances.
Fulham comes to the Emirates this weekend, and I really hope we get maximum points because we are further behind the leading pack.
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