Wednesday, November 7, 2012

FC Schalke 2 Arsenal 2

Before the match if we had been offered a 0-0 draw, we would have happily taken it. A 2-2 draw is even better, but after having led the game 2-0 for 20 minutes and having had a glorious chance to make it 3-2 to snatch a victory, the final whistle left us with disappointment at Las Mimosas bar.

If Walcott had better dealt with the one-on-one situation with the keeper at the death, what a goal it would have been! Three points from the Vetlins Arena against arguably the strongest opponents in the Champions League Group B! But it wasn't be. After spending a large part of the second half under pressure, probably the draw was a fair result for us. The game could have gone either way. If we hadn't conceded a goal just before half-time, it could have been a totally different story. The timing of that goal was crucial when the game was played in front of the passionate home crowd. The goal gave the team hopes and momentum for fight-back.

However, we still have all to play for. There are six points up for grab with two games to be played and the top three teams are within three points. The media are trying to put a negative spin on last night's result, with headlines such as "Arsenal's hopes hang in balance". If we beat bottom-side Montpellier, whose chance of progressing to the next round is virtually none and whose domestic league form has also been suffering this season, and Schalke beat Olympiacos, (which is a highly likely scenario since the both English and German clubs have already beaten their respective opponents in away games), we will secure our place in the knock-out stages alongside with Schalke with a game to spare.

There were four changes to Arsene Wenger's side who started in the 2-0 defeat at the Emirates: Aaron Ramsey was left in England with a groin injury he sustained in Saturday's match against Manchester United, while Theo Walcott started on the right wing after passing late fitness tests that morning. Carl Jenkinson was replaced by fit-again Bacary Sagna. Also fit-again Jack Wilshere, who will miss this weekend's clash with Fulham due to his suspension, took Francis Coquelin's place. Andre Santos was dropped to the bench with Vermaelen moved to the left-back and Koscielny slotted into the centre-back position. Santos' omission from the starting line-up was widely reported in newspapers prior to the match. Some attribute it to the boss' displeasure about the Brazilian's shirt swap at half time at the Old Trafford, some simply blame it for the left-back's poor performance against Schalke and Manchester United.

In fact, we thought about this back-four line-up ahead of the QPR game, but when somebody pointed out how short Vermaelen's performance fell as a left-back during our full-back injury crisis, we abandoned this idea. This game once again reminded us of the make-shift left-back's performance last season. He tends to be dragged into the middle and Schalke's second goal highlighted this problem. He should have been closing down Farfan on the left flank. That said, Vermaelen looked a better option than Santos in that his presence seems to have given Podolski more assurance. Following Saturday's defeat, Arsene Wenger said that his players had forgotten how good they were. One of the players he meant by that must have been Lukas Podolski. The Germany international was more influential in Arsenal's attack last night than he had been in recent weeks. Playing Vermaelen as left-back is not ideal, but is a temporary solution till Gibbs comes back. According to the Daily Mail, Gibbs' return has been pencilled in for the Fulham game. If this is the case, it is a huge boost for Arsenal.

Arsenal went into this game with a lot of questions to answer. The focus was more on their attacking rather than their defence. The North London club seemed to have lost their flair and traits of attacking football in the last few weeks, creating few chances. In this game Arsenal registered 6 shots on target with two off target, scoring two goals, both from open-play. Although it was not classic Arsenal football, with 42.7%  possession and a relatively low 80.5% passing success rate by the Club's standard, improvements are obvious in those two goals. Especially the second goal was one of the positives to take from this game. After well-worked link-up play (although Cazorla's pass to Giroud was poor), Podolski delivered a superb cross which swerved around the Schalke left-back, while Giroud left his marker dead to meet the cross with a diving header.

Although Arteta has been doing well in the deep-lying role this season, we miss Song's doggedness and strength in physical and tough games like this. The only midfielder that could directly fill his shoes among the current crop of players is Manny Frimpong. He has physical strength and the right mentality required for a holding midfielder when he is fully fit and sharp. Coquelin is ahead of him in the pecking order because of his experience after his season-long loan spell at Lorient and deployment as a utility player last season, but he doesn't have enough physical strength for a holding midfielder.

Whatever the media say, we still have a good chance to qualify with a home game against a bottom side next. If anybody is sniffy about the point we came away with from Gelsenkirchen, they are underestimating a Shalke side. We may be no longer in the driving seat for winning the group, but our fate for qualification is still in our hands. We are confident that Arsenal will go through to the knock-out stage.

Player ratings

Mannone: 7
He probably got his angle wrong for Schalke's first goal. Made a number of fine saves. Szczesny's return seems to be imminent as he was training with the squad this Monday. We are sure that Wenger wouldn't mind this kind of headaches.

Sagna: 6
Some good defensive display, but he was partially culpable for Schalke's second goal. He shouldn't have allowed Affelay to deliver a cross.

Mertesacker: 6
Mixed performance.

Koscielny: 6
Better defender amid Arsenal's fragile defensive performance.

Vermaelen: 5
He slipped again! He is the main culprit for Schalke's second goal.

Cazorla: 6
He was in a great position to score, but squandered the chance by hitting the ball high.

Arteta: 7
Along with his team-mates, some of his clearances were poor, but he made a match-saving clearance with his shoulder at the near post.

Wilshere: 6
Showed his commitment. Although he faded in the latter stages of the game, the fact that Jack has completed the full 90 minutes of a highly competitive game unscathed was another positive from this game.

Walcott: 7
Score the opener, but his loss of possession led to Schalke's first goal. However, Arsene Wenger is sure it was a foul by Affelay on the England winger.

Podolski: 6
Provided an assist for Giroud's goal. He had a much better game than he had played for the last few weeks,  with more enthusiasm. He would certainly have scored a goal, if the referee hadn't stupidly stopped the game after the Schalke left-back fell over. Instead he was given a yellow card for kicking the ball away after the whistle.

Giroud: 7
Scored Arsenal's second goal with a beautiful header, showing his strength in the air. He had a good chance to score from Cazorla's free-kick, but his header was straight at the keeper. He could have done better with another chance he had, but signs have been encouraging in the past week for him to come good.


Santos: 5
Came on the pitch to shore up the Arsenal defence in the 90th minute for Podolski.

Coquelin: 6
90th-minute substitute for Cazorla. Outmuscled by Schalke defender at the edge of the Schalke box. He definitely needs to toughen up himself. Provided a superb pass for Walcott at the death.

No comments:

Post a Comment