A pair of strikes, arising from defensive errors, converted by Schalke’s Dutch forwards condemned Arsenal to back to back defeats last night and set up an AGM that will be feistier than it should have been today.
There was an air of tension around Ashburton Grove suggesting the after effects of the disappointing defeat to the yokels of Norwich were yet to be forgotten by the Gooners hoping for salvation on the European stage last night.
It was a surprisingly mild early autumn evening when Schalke 04, the 3rd placed Bundesliga team of the 2011-12 season, arrived to provide a strong test for an Arsenal team stripped of most of the confidence built up from a steady start to the season.
The question was would the Arsenal team roar back from the league setback in Norfolk or would it feel sorry for itself as has been the tendency to do so in the past and serve us up another listless, disinterested performance?
It was expected that the danger man in the opposition would be Huntelaar, a man linked to Arsenal (as has just about any player in the world seeking to have either his wages doubled or a higher transfer fee), as well as his compatriot on loan from the Catalan DNA chasers, Afellay.
The perceived problem with pursuing Huntelaar was that he didn’t get on with a certain ex-Feyenoord player, a question now academic given said Judas’s departure to the scumsters of Old Toilet, however I digress.
Suitably relaxed with several shots of vodka from the usual pre match boozer I made my way to my seat, only a few rows from the front, behind the Clock End goal.
On arrival at my seat the now as expected noisy away fans on European nights seemed to be in fine spirits and their near constant singing was a feature of the night. Their bass drummer drowning out any attempts by the home crowd to get any retaliatory songs started.
I’m sure I heard “Yellow submarine” as well as “Roll out the barrel” being sung by them, however by the time I thought I heard them singing a Bananarama song it became clear they must have been Schalke’s own team songs. There were the noisiest away fans I’d seen in many a year and you have to respect them for that.
For Arsenal it was Gervinho who was the focal point of the front three (Podolski and Cazorla being the other two) with the midfield three of Arteta, Coquelin and Ramsey playing in front of a back four of Jenko, BFG, the skipper and Santos.
The game started evenly with there being attacking intent being shown by both sides and both sides suffering from “sideways-itis” in the final third. It was refreshing to see an away side not being defensive and coming at Arsenal which offered up space in the midfield – there was no hint of Schalke adopting a Chelsea like approach or “Parken der busse” in midfield.
Huntelaar was barely noticeable in the first half and Afellay showed his Barca credentials with an appalling dive that earned him a yellow card for simulation, although the there was a sharp intake of breath in Ashburton Grove as the referees decided on the initial penalty claim.
For arsenal while Gervinho seemed to be trying when he did receive the ball he was often isolated and therefore had few options – overall the lack of off the ball movement from Arsenal was disconcerting. When Gervinho did get to fire a cross into the danger zone there was no one there to tuck in what would have been a tap in.
There were few real chances in the first half for either side and the home crowd seemed reasonably happy to go in at nil nil.
The second half showed little change from the first and the weaknesses in the Arsenal game were becoming more noticeable as the team seemed to show their lack of confidence by a reluctance to venture forward and support attacks, except for one player who shouldn’t have been doing that – Santos.
Where I was sitting the Schalke right winger was running towards me, terrorising Santos and exploiting his positional indiscipline. It was an obvious tactic given to the Schalke forwards to pick away at Arsenals biggest weakness, namely their left flank.
The routine substitution on 70-75 minutes happened with Gervinho being taken off to spare him further embarrassment after an appalling dive of his own in the second half, to join Afellay in receiving a yellow card for simulation. Giroud came on to huge cheers – or perhaps there were cheers for seeing Gervinho being taken off.
The home crowd did seem to transmit their anxiety to the players who performed with little freedom and seemed bereft of any self-assurance.
The attacking endeavour of Schalke was rewarded when a ball chipped back into the Arsenal penalty area after the danger seemed to have gone, lead to clinical strike from Huntelaar to send the sea of blue to my right into an even higher state of frenzy.
I looked left to the lino who offered no get out clause for us with an offside flag as it I later learnt that Santos had played Huntelaar on side.
There was a brief response from Arsenal in more pressure being exerted on the Schalke goal after Podolski (who was roundly booed, as expected, by the away section) and Jenko were taken off to bring on Arshavin and Gnabry; the latter being, to my eyes, an act of desperation. To bring on Andrei and a 17 year old with less than 10 minutes to go smacks of there being no time for them to make a difference. That we barely had a handful of shots on goal demonstrates the ineffectualness of our offensive play on the night.
Sadly Santos then completed a miserable night for himself a few minutes before full time by allowing the Schalke right winger plenty of space to fire in a cross that resulted in a simple tap in for the Barca loanee, Afellay.
This was the cue for a mass exodus from the clock end as Gooners around me had seen enough.
As injury time finished and the final whistle went boos did ring out as the Gooners demonstrated their disapproval and I shuffled off with the bass drummer’s beats pounding in my head, sounding out an unwelcome farewell.
Charybdis1966 (on twitter and Youtube)