Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Arsenal Lose 2-0 At Home To Schalke

Arsenal went into last night's Champions League game with Schalke on top of their group with a 100% record. A win was required to put Arsenal within touching distance of qualification for the knockout stages. Arsenal have a very good home record in the Champions League and were firm favourites to take all three points.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the team which played so badly in the 1-0 defeat to Norwich last Saturday evening. Francis Coquelin came into the midfield with Aaron Ramsey moving to a wide role and Olivier Giroud missing out. It meant Gervinho was the player to play in the central striker's role.

I am not fond of Gervinho in that re and I think it was very tough on Giroud. If the manager wanted to play four men in midfield he could surely have played Giroud and left Gervinho out. Gervinho may be Arsenal's top scorer so far this season, but I don't know a single Arsenal fan who rates him highly.

He is far too inconsistent with the ball and just as likely to fall over it as do something good. I thought his performance against Norwich was far worse than that of Giroud, but he seems to be the flavour of the moth for the boss. He is not a striker and I can only guess what it does to the confidence of Giroud to see him play there ahead of Giroud.

Arsenal dominated possession early on but they created nothing and Schalke looked dangerous on the break. As the half wore on the possession was shared but Schalke had by far the better chances. It looked like Norwich all over again for Arsenal, but Schalke are a better team than Norwich.

The second half started off no better for Arsenal and it didn't look good. Yet again Arsenal couldn't create a chance worthy of the name. Their inability to score goals this season is worrying and they have now failed to score in four of their 12 games.

With 15 minutes to Giroud came on for Gervinho and almost immediately Schalke took the lead. Arsenal cleared the ball and ran out to play the offside but Andre Santos was left behind. When the ball was played in again it left Klaas Huntelaar clear on Vito Mannone and he finished easily to make it 1-0.

Santos didn't have a good game and he should have moved out as quick as the rest of the defence. However, both Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen didn't exactly cover themselves in glory for the goal either. They seemed unaware of Huntelaar's position and the fact that Santos was playing him onside.

With Schalke going ahead Arsenal needed a reaction, but yet again like the Norwich game it just wasn't there. The team couldn't find anything to help them raise their game and it's very worrying. In recent seasons Arsenal have had no problems scoring goals and it was their defending which let them down.

It's unusual to see Arsenal struggle to create any decent chances in a game and it seems the team needs a shot in the arm. Maybe the return of Jack Wilshere will be what the team needs but he will take quite a while to get back to his best after 14 months out injured.

As the game drew towards it's inevitable end Schalke doubled their advantage with a late goal from Ibrahim Afellay. He was on hand to stroke the ball home at the back post after a quick break exposed an Arsenal team trying to push forward. Yet again Santos didn't do too well as Schalke found it far too easy to expose him.

Arsenal had brought both Andrey Arshavin and Serge Gnabry on for Lukas Podolski and Carl Jenkinson shortly before the second goal. Gnabry looked good in the few minutes he played but his inexperience gave the ball away for the move that led to the second goal. Arshavin didn't really have enough game time to make an impact.

Arsenal have quite a few players out injured at the moment and it looks like the team are struggling as a result. It's very hard for the boss to shake up an under performing team when his best options are all unavailable. It also seems that the players who are being asked to play every game are suffering the effects.

The players looked tired last night and the sooner there are more decent options for the first team the better. Until Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Tomas Risicky are available the midfield duo of Santi Cazorla and Mikael Arteta will have to play almost every minute.

Arsenal have now lost three of their last five games since Disby got injured against Chelsea. Perhaps his contribution in midfield was one of the main reasons Arsenal were looking so good just a few short weeks ago. With his injury record Arsenal simply cannot rely on Diaby to be a permanent member of the team.

By the time the final whistle went there way an awful lot of empty seats in the stadium. It had been nine years since Arsenal lost at home to continental opposition in the Champions League and the defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. The performance was the worst part of the night yet again and that has to change in the next game.

I'll be at that game against QPR on Saturday afternoon and I really hope the team can put on a better show. QPR may be relegation fodder at the moment, but Norwich showed on Saturday that no team can be taken for granted. Arsenal need to find their pace and drive again, as their game has become far too pedestrian.

Watching the highlights of other Champions League games last night I was reminded of how teams are meant to attack. Arsenal have become too slow and predictable in their build up and they need to change that. They need to pressurise defenders into mistakes and get behind the opposition.

I still think this team had the capability of doing something special this season, but they need to get out of this rut right now. They're already 10 points off the pace in the league and they have just made their Champions League so much harder for themselves. They're second in the group at the half-way stage with a very tough away trip to Schalke up next in two weeks.

I still think Arsenal can go there and get a win but even a draw would not be a bad result. I would prefer to see them win their group but I'll be happy once they qualify for the last 16. After that the draw can bring anybody, but winning the group obviously cuts out the chances of drawing the very top sides in the last 16.

At least the boss will be able to take his place in the dugout for the next game after his European ban ended last night. He'll have his work cut out to turn the group back in Arsenal's favour but six points from the first three games is not a bad return so far. The manner of last night's performance may have been hard to take but it has to be kept in perspective from a Champions League point of view at least.

English champions Manchester City would be thrilled to have Arsenal's six points rather than the one they have right now. I still think Arsenal will qualify for the knockout stages, but it could go down to the last game. That's far from an ideal scenario for the team, but at least they have a very good chance if still doing it.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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