Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Arsenal Draw 2-2 With Schalke

Arsenal went into last night's Champions League Group game away to Schalke needing some sort of result to halt their recent slide. Not only had results been bad but the performances just weren't up to scratch either. Only 10 games into their Premier League campaign their chances of challenging for the title seemed a forlorn hope already.

They had started their Champions League group very well with wins away to Montpellier and at home to Olympiacos. It all went wrong in their last game when they were outplayed and beaten 2-0 at home by last night's opponents. Arsenal needed to get something from the game to keep themselves in a good position for qualification for the knockout stages.

It seemed Arsene Wenger listened to the clamour from the fans as Theo Walcott started his first game since August besides the Capital One Cup. He had been ill not too long before the game but he was well enough to take his place in the starting 11. It's hard to know whether his exclusions have been due to his current contract situation but I certainly think it has been a major factor.

The other change from Saturday's defeat to United was the inclusion of Laurent Koscielny in the team at centre back. It meant Thomas Vermaelen moved to left back with Andre Santos dropping to the bench. Santos has been poor recently and his positional sense at left back just isn't good enough in my opinion.

However Vermaelen hasn't been much better and left back is hardly his favoured position. I still worried that Arsenal would be vulnerable on that side after Schalke exploited it so well in the reverse fixture.

Schalke took control from the start and it looked like Arsenal were going to be in for a very hard game. However, goals change games and the first one went to Arsenal.

Oliver Giroud seemed offside when a defensive deflection sent him through on the Schalke goalkeeper. He took too long over his shot and a desperate tackle took the ball from him, but it ran kindly for Walcott. He skipped past the keeper and a defender to tap the ball into an empty net and put Arsenal 1-0 up.

There was certainly a large slice of fortune in Arsenal getting the offside decision in their favour and probably in Walcott's finish too. It didn't matter though as Arsenal had finally managed to score the first goal in a game. With 18 minutes on the clock there was still a long way to go though.

It wasn't long before Arsenal added to their lead and that man Giroud was the scorer this time. He manage to find acres of room in the Schalke box and headed home from six yards out when Lukas Podolski found him with a cross. The defending from Schalke was right out of the Arsenal manual with players strolling casually around as Giroud scored.

Arsenal found their way a little after that with the confidence a two goal lead can bring. There was a long way to go still though and the worst thing they could do was concede before half time. Of course in true Arsenal fashion they did just that in first half stoppage time.

Santi Cazorla fell over when in possession in his own half and two passes later Klaas Jan Huntelaar was left with only Vito Mannone to beat. He made no mistake and Schalke had the foothold in the game that they needed. It was going to be a long second half for Arsenal.

Arsenal's confidence seemed to disappear with only a one goal lead to defend and it looked like only a matter of time before the sides were level. Mannone was having his second very good game in a row in goal, but the pressure was constantly building as Arsenal dropped deeper. Mid way through the half Schalke leveled the game and Arsenal's defending left a kit to be desired again.

Vermaelen has taken some stick for his part in the goal, but I think it's a little unfair. When the ball came in from the right he had to leave the man he was marking to cover an unmarked Schalke player in the goalmouth. The rule for a defender is to cover the player nearest the goal and whoever let that player get in there unmarked was responsible in my opinion.

The ball went right across to the other side where the player Vermaelen would have been marking was on hand to blast it goal wards. Unfortunately Jefferson Farfan's effort hit Vermaelen on the way into the net but I wouldn't consider it an own goal. The defensive players turned and looked shocked to see Farfan on his own at the back post.

The Arsenal defenders and midfielders were reacting to the situation rather than acting before it happened. It goes back to a lack of leadership on the pitch, as somebody has to be telling the players who to pick up. As captain maybe that is Vermaelen's job so maybe he was indirectly to blame.

It could have been a very difficult last quarter for Arsenal bit they managed to hold firm. In the very last minute of the game they had a great chance to claim an unlikely victory and all three points. Walcott managed to get through with only the keeper to beat and the stage was set for him to make himself the hero of the night.

Unfortunately it was on his left foot and by the time he adjusted himself to get it on his right he was very close to the keeper. His shot hit the keepers shin and the game was over moments later. I won't knock Walcott too much for his miss as better players have missed easier chances on many occasions for Arsenal.

Before the game a draw would have been a perfectly acceptable result but it felt so much worse after leading 2-0. The inability to get to half time with the two goal cushion was a huge factor in Arsenal's second half showing. At least Arsenal managed to make some good chances which was a welcome change from recent games.

Confidence is obviously still very brittle and the next two league games won't make things any easier. The game at home to Fulham on Saturday is followed by a home game against Spurs. It was the 5-2 win over Spurs last season which got Arsenal back on track and more of the same would be much appreciated after hopefully beating Fulham on Saturday of course.

Qualification for the Champions League knock out stages is still in Arsenal's hands, but they have to beat Montpellier at home in their next game. If they do so and Schalke win at home to Olympiacos at the same time Arsenal will come second in the group at worst. It would be far from an ideal scenario if Arsenal have to travel to Olympicos in their last game looking to avoid defeat to qualify.

Runners up in the group would more than likely bring a very tough draw in the last 16, but it's better than playing in the Europa League. Last night's result was a real look at life as an Arsenal fan as a good draw felt far from it due to blowing a two goal lead. Some times it feels like the team are trying to punish us but I'm sure fans of other clubs feel the same way about their teams too.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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