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Schalke 2 Arsenal 2: Spoils Shared at the Battle of Gelsenkirchen

Errrrr……You’re not Usain Bolt

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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Schalke Preview: Make or Break Time

The arrivals of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, coupled with the departures of Alex Song and Robin van Persie didn’t seem like a classic case of three steps forward, two steps back at the start of the season.

Mikel Arteta’s emergence as Arsenal’s primary holding midfielder made Song a distant memory. Just like music that gets stale, thoughts of Song faded away into oblivion as the Spaniard continued to excel in his new role, and there is also a hungry Francis Coquelin, that’s eager to prove his worth to the team.

However, the loss of van Persie has been hugely felt, as Arsenal has failed to get that player that could do the unexpected as well as those vital get-out-of-jail free cards. Speaking of unexpected, Gervinho’s early season performances were nothing short of jaw dropping, but his return to the wing coincided with some below-par outings but he’s currently facing a spell on the sidelines.

Theo Walcott has done well in his bit-part roles this season but it seems as if fatigue is taking its toll on Podolski, as he tends to vanish as matches progress till that inevitable moment when his number appears on the fourth official’s board.

However, my concern has been the lack of goals from van Persie’s replacement, Olivier Giroud. It took an eternity for last season’s Ligue 1’s top marksman to open his account at Arsenal in the 6 – 1 thrashing of Coventry, and I with many Gooners out there, believed that the floodgates where going to open, with goals flowing like, you know, water.

After another dry spell got two quick-fire goals for his club (against West Ham) and his country (against Spain), giving Arsenal fans something to drool about once again. He then had a spell on the dugout before scoring his third and latest Arsenal goal in the enthralling 7 – 5 win over Reading.

Giroud got into encouraging positions in Old Trafford, but sometimes, getting into goal scoring positions isn’t enough. In the same game, van Persie had a half chance when Thomas Vermaelen fluffed at Rafael’s cross and Manchester United was one goal to the good.

The French forward has admitted that goal scoring is an obsession for him, and he’s confident that they’ll start flowing on a regular basis,

“Scoring goals is an obsession for me, and probably for all strikers. I must admit, I’ve had a little bit of a difficult start but the boss and the coaches trust in me and just say, ‘Don’t worry, the goals will come soon. Continue to work hard in training – you have the right qualities’.

“I’m keeping confident and continuing to work hard. I scored many goals early on in my career, and when you score it obviously makes you feel better.

“But I’m happy at the moment, and I feel I did well when I came on against Reading in the League Cup. So everything is OK, I just need to keep working hard.”

I can’t argue about Giroud’s commitment in every game and a goal or two against Schalke tonight will  go a long way in endearing himself into Arsenal hearts, as three points are paramount in this game.

Arsenal visit the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, knowing that a victory will be more than enough to take them back into pole position in Group B. In somewhat disappointing circumstances, Schalke dented Arsenal’s amazing 45-game unbeaten home record against non-English opposition at the Emirates, which in turn, allowed the German outfit to usurp the Gunners at the summit.

Arsene Wenger has acknowledged Arsenal’s good defensive fortunes in the Premier League but he has urged his team to revive their attacking flair and spark up their creative juices,

“I think what is most important right now is that we find our game back. Our game is about creating chances, about going forward, about having an offensive drive. What is most important is that we play again with our enthusiasm, desire to create chances and enjoy our game, more than thinking about if we concede a goal or not.”

To team news, Aaron Ramsey (groin) and Theo Walcott (illness) have added to Arsenal’s ever-increasing injury list. With the Ox and Gervinho out injured as well, Wenger will have a decision to make in choosing his right winger.

I expect Vito Mannone to continue in goal tonight. He made a couple of good saves against Manchester United to keep the scoreline flattering for the Gunners and I really hope he gets a clean sheet tonight.

In defense, I really want to see Laurent Koscielny back in action as Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos have been very poor this season. The Brazilian maverick has apologized for taking van Persie’s jersey but he has revealed what he used the jersey for. 😀

This is the reason why Andre Santos took van Persie's jersey. :D

That’s why its a table cloth…

However, I won’t want to see Andre Santos play on the left back position tonight, judging from the torrid show he put up against Jefferson Farfan. Vermaelen can be drafted into the left back slot, thereby creating a slot for Kos the Boss. Per Mertesacker on the other hand, wants Arsenal to play like Schalke.

In midfield, I expect the triumvirate of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.

The goal-obsessed Giroud will spearhead the attack while Podolski will support him on the left but with the massive injuries to all right wing personnel, I would like to see the Russian hobbit, Andrey Arshavin, get a run-out as well.

I’m done here.

Here’s to an optimistic result tonight.



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Arsenal 0 Schalke 2: The Post-Norwich Hangover Continues

45 games unbeaten – Gone with the wind


“We have got over it and we will focus on our next game, that is the only way to deal with it, to put the disappointment behind us and focus on Schalke. As a team, we were not as efficient as we are used to. It can happen in the season. It is just of course at a very bad moment for us.

“I expect us to respond in a strong way because this team is very ambitious and wants to do very well.”

“We have a good opportunity, we play at home against Schalke and since we know that we won in Montpellier, our qualifying will depend on how well we do at home.”Arsene Wenger

With Arsenal playing so badly against Norwich, anything less than a commanding performance against Schalke 04 wouldn’t have been enough for the fans. I didn’t expect an upheaval of the squad that played Norwich, but when Gervinho was redeployed back to the center forward position after weeks of mediocrity on the flanks, I felt it was a good call by the boss.

Olivier Giroud’s withdrawal from the team allowed Francis Coquelin to stake another claim in the midfield, causing Aaron Ramsey to be drafted to that unfamiliar right wing berth. Ramsey did well to locate Gervinho with a perfect pass, and with Lukas Podolski losing his marker to rush into the box, all he needed was a quick Gervinho cut back, but the Ivorian dallied on the ball and that chance went begging.

Santi Cazorla teed up Podolski with another good ball and the German wasted no time in drilling the ball into the box. Gervinho was on the end of the drilled cross but his finish was shocking to say the least. That kind of cross is bread and butter for a natural center forward.

Mikel Arteta lost the ball in midfield, allowing Schalke to hit Arsenal on the break. A through ball from Lewis Holtby saw Carl Jenkinson and Ibrahim Afellay battle for the ball. Jenkinson allegedly left the ball for Vito Mannone but the goalie and his defender weren’t in the same wavelength. Afellay got to the ball first and hit the deck after some minimal contact from Mannone, causing the ref to brandish a yellow card to the Dutch winger for diving.

On another day, that caused easily have been a penalty for Schalke.

Gervinho and Podolski connected well on the left wing, but the German’s inviting cross in the box wasn’t attacked by any Arsenal player which clearly showed how the predatory instincts of Theo Walcott, the Ox and probably Olivier Giroud were badly missed.

Cazorla made the Emirates crowd roar when he located Gervinho with a peach of a pass, but the Ivorian embarrassed himself when he tried to take on Benedikt Howedes, allowing that clear cut chance to fade away. With Arsenal failing to capitalize on their chances, Schalke grew into the game, and exposed Andre Santos’ defensive frailties countless times.

Late on, Atsuto Uchida and Jefferson Farfan made mincemeat of  Andre Santos before drilling a cross for the dangerous Klass-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutchman got on the end of Uchida’s cross but his effort missed the goal by a lick of paint with Mannone rooted to the spot.

Arsenal appeared to be in the driver’s seat in the start of the second half when Cazorla’s cross was controlled superbly by Coquelin before he sent a teasing cross across the goalmouth. Ramsey attempted a feeble flick goalwards but the Schalke defense were up to the challenge.

Andre Santos continued to have a torrid evening, and his woes were compounded when Farfan eased past him before sending a cross to Hoger, that killed a bird in the sky with his attempt on goal. Farfan continued to have a great time with the atrocious Andre Santos, but his cross to Huntelaar was intercepted by Mannone.

With Gervinho being a pain to watch all night long, Dark Lord Steve Bouldimort opted for Giroud to come into the pitch, thereby putting Gervinho out of his misery. For some strange reason best known to the company that supplies nicotine-infested chewing gum to Sir Alex Ferguson, Gervinho has invoked his post-2012 AFCON spirits, and he has been having shockers week-in week-out.

After knocking at Arsenal’s door for a while, Schalke got the breakthrough when Huntelaar was located with a header in behind the two center backs, and he wasted no time in firing the ball past a hapless Mannone. Prior to the goal, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker had been playing very well, but that lapse in concentration was enough for Huntelaar to fire his team ahead.

With minutes slowly fading away, Lord Bouldimort summoned Andrey Arshavin and the exciting Serge Gnabry for Lukas Podolski and Carl Jenkinson. Gnabry almost made an instant impact when he showed off some great footwork to evade a marker but his pass to Mertesacker didn’t match the build-up.

With Arsenal pushing for the equalizer, gaping holes were left at the back, and no one was surprised to see Farfan unmarked on the right hand side, with Andre Santos still further up the pitch. The Peruvian forward fired in a cross-field  ball that was slammed home by Afellay, bringing Arsenal’s impregnable home record against non-English opposition in the Champions League to an end.

It’s worth noting that in this 45-game unbeaten run, Arsenal had ousted great European superpowers like Real Madrid, Juventus, Porto and even Barcelona, but it took an average German outfit to tear the record into shreds. Typical.

Arsenal had their first shot on target in the 93rd minute from Gnabry and that was a testament of how horrible things are panning out for Arsene Wenger’s men recently. Three defeats in four games paints the picture vividly.

Mannone (6.5) was relatively untroubled but he picked the ball out of his net twice.

Jenkinson (6.5) did well to shove off the threat Afellay posed.

Andre Santos (4.0) put up a woeful outing and it was shameful seeing him play so poorly.

Mertesacker (7.0) made a lot of vital interceptions in the cause of the game.

Vermaelen (6.5) worked in tandem with BFG, but was a bit culpable for the first goal.

Coquelin (7.0) worked his skins off in midfield.

Arteta (7.0) worked hard for his team.

Cazorla (7.0) played his way out from pockets superbly and made great passes as the game progressed. Really shameful to know that the forward line weren’t in the same wavelength.

Ramsey (6.0) struggled a lot in the game and held on the ball far to long on countless occasions.

Podolski (6.5) worked hard on the left and provided some teasing crosses into the box, but no one capitalized on them.

Gervinho (5.5) was clearly out of form and struggled in the position he once enjoyed.

Giroud (6.0) failed to stamp his authority on the game.

Arshavin (6.0) was a last cause.

Gnabry (7.0) showed off glimpses of his quality and it’s high time he gets a run-out in the first team.

There are many negatives to take away from another disappointing defeat and the mere fact that it was a home tie is a very bitter spill to swallow. Arsenal hasn’t scored in two consecutive games and this is also coupled with back to back defeats. To top it all off, Schalke has usurped the Gunners to lead the group, making the return leg one to die for for.

I’m supposed to be really gutted at the moment, but the prospect of eating ram meat courtesy of the Sallah break is enough to put a smile on this angry blogger’s face.


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