Monday, 5 November 2012

Arsenal's Champions League Trip To Schalke Previewed

Just before the last international break Arsenal were looking in pretty good shape. They had bounced back from their league defeat to Chelsea and won away to West Ham. They had won their first two Champions League group games and were heading into back to back games against Schalke.

What a difference a month can make as Arsenal now find themselves in a real mess. They have lost two out if their last three league games and only barely managed to beat QPR 1-0 in the other one. They also lost 2-0 at home to Schalke to give up their spot at the top of their Champions League group.

The most worrying aspect in those games has been the teams inability to create goalscoring chances. Even in the defeat to Chelsea there were enough chances created for Arsenal to have got something from the game. Whatever has happened since the international break has seen the team lose virtually all of it's creativity.

With that in mind the team needs shaking up ahead of tonight's return trip to Schalke. The problem is there aren't too many options available to Arsene Wenger. He will have to make do with the players who have struggled so much in recent games.

In team news Aaron Ramsey has a groin injury and won't travel with Johan Djourou taking his place in the squad. Theo Walcott has been ill and may not be able to play as a result. There's absolutely no news on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain so I can only assume that he still hasn't recovered from his injury either.

How often have Arsenal told us that players will be back in two to three weeks only for the player to miss so many more games. If the club's original statements on injuries were right Chamberlain would be available tonight along with Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Wojciech Szczesny. They are four players who could really do something to shake up a very stale looking team.

I can't see too many changes from the defeat to United on Saturday as it's just not the manager's way. To be fair to him he doesn't have an awful lot of options at the moment either. It would be an ideal time for a player like Ryo Myiachi to get a chance but he's been loaned out.

Arsenal are noted for giving young players a chance, but sometimes I think it's a bit of a myth. Very few young players get a real go in the team and a chance to show what they can do on a weekly basis. Young Raheem Sterling has been given a real chance at Liverpool and he looks to be thriving to me.

I also think Arsenal's possession game can be stifling to for some of the younger players when they do get a chance. I would live to see Chamberlain in the team on a weekly basis with orders to run at the opposition with the ball. He has the skill to do hurt opponents, but too often the safe pass and slow game are what happens.

It has become very obvious over the last few weeks that other teams can work out how to stop Arsenal and Arsenal cannot or will not change their tactics to counter this. The only time they have done so recently was when the fringe team came from 4-0 down to beat Reading 7-5 in the Capital One Cup.

Schalke completely outplayed Arsenal two weeks ago at the Emirates and they have to be confident they can do so again tonight. It's up to the boss to find a way for Arsenal to counter Schalke and impose their own game on them. They need their experienced players to step up and take some responsibility on the pitch to give them a chance.

It seems Jack Wilshere is sure to play from the start again with Arsenal's midfield options so limited. He has been very busy since he returned from injury and he will deserve his enforced break next Saturday. Let's just hope he can channel his enthusiasm a little better tonight and stay on the referee's good side.

I hope Walcott is well enough to play and if he does I would love to see him have a real go at Schalke. I can only imagine Lukas Podolski will play on the other side of Arsenal's attacking trio. If he does he has to offer an awful lot more than he has done recently and help Andre Santos with his defensive duties more too.

Santos has become "persona not gratia" recently because of his performances at left back. To make matters worse he asked Robin van Persie for his shirt at half time in Saturday's match. He may not have been aware how offensive some Arsenal fans would find this, but that only shows what a cosseted world the players live in.

There may be cultural differences between Brazil and England as he has said, but the Brazilians are pretty passionate about their football. I don't know if a player in van Persie's position would be forgiven by the fans of his former team in Beazil, but I doubt it. If the players had any sense of the feelings of the fans they would have been kicking lumps out of van Persie and not swapping shirts.

I hope Santos can be an awful lot better tonight if he plays. I can't see him being left out as Thomas Vermaelen is the only other option in that position and he's not exactly on his game at the moment either. The left hand side of Arsenal's defence is certainly it's weak point and Schalke took advantage of that in the last game.

There have been accusations of a lack of tactical awareness by Wenger at times and inability to change the team when things are going wrong. If he allows Schalke to have another open day on the left hand side of the Arsenal defence those accusations will seem to be true. Arsenal have to be seen to have a way to protect Santos from the two on one situation he faced far too often in the last game.

I still believe this Arsenal team are good enough to win this game and top their group. I just hope the players can find that belief in themselves tonight. The malaise that has overtaken the team has to be stopped and the first ingredient in the remedy is hard work. Arsenal need to work harder than Schalke tonight and take the game to them.

If Schalke man mark any Arsenal player then Arsenal need to be ready to counter that move. The old fashioned way was for that player to pull his marker all over the pitch and create space for others to play in. It sounds simple but surely it can be effective.

There's still goals in this Arsenal team and Reading will vouch for that. They need to rediscover the ability to make and score those goals again and that's not easy when your confidence is shot to pieces. At a time like this a team needs it's leaders on the pitch.

Vermaelen inherited the captain's armband when van Persie left, but I'm not sure he's captain material. I captained every team I ever played for because I have a loud voice and I never stop telling players what they should be doing on the pitch. For me that's part of a captain's job and Arsenal need a captain who will do that.

Who that player is in the current squad is another matter and again I'm not sure of the answer. The shared leadership theory is all well and good, but when things go wrong the players need someone to look to.

I'm trying to be optimistic about tonight's game and I'm predicting a narrow victory for Arsenal. The first goal will be very important because it will dictate the pattern of the game. If Arsenal conceded that first goal I worry about their ability to find a way back into the game.

It's almost inconceivable for an Arsenal team under Wenger not to have a shot on target during a game. In the home game against Schalke and the defeat to United their first attempt on target was in injury time in both games. It quite simply has to be a whole lot better tonight or their progress from the group will become quite tricky.

A draw would be a good result tonight but a win would halt the rot and put their group destiny firmly in their own hands again. The thought of going to play Olympiacos in Greece in early December needing a result doesn't exactly fill me with joy or confidence.

The current run has to stop somewhere and where better than in Germany tonight. A win would surely help the team to regain their confidence ahead of home league games against Fulham and Spurs. Let's just hope the players can show the passion and commitment that the travelling Arsenal fans show week after week and get that much needed victory one way or another.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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