The journey to 100 goals begins with a single kick.

Schalke Away: pray for rain

Before we get into the preview of the match between Schalke and Arsenal I wanted to have a quick word about yesterday’s article of faith.

I don’t know much about other writers’ processes but I think that I might be a bit, odd, regarding what I write and how I write it. I can’t even tell you why I have weird restrictions in my writing or what I’m really trying to achieve. In fact, now that I write about my writing, it all seems kind of insane.

I get up at 3-4am, read a little about Arsenal, think about the day, and start to write. My restrictions are that I detest going over the same old ground, I don’t like using the conventional style of “here’s the idea, here’s the argument, here’s the idea again”, I like getting lost in the stream of consciousness, I love pushing buttons, I keep my posts limited to around 1000 words, and while I love data and using data to tell stories I don’t want to get bogged down in using data all the time.

It’s probably my hatred of convention that gets me into the most trouble when it comes to the internal logic of my articles. So here, let me break down yesterday’s article for you as if I were writing a topic sentence for a Freshman paper on faith among sports fans:

Arsenal are in a limbo period between two competing logics and faiths: there are legitimate gripes that people have with Wenger (the board, the players, etc.) and perhaps he (they) should be fired. Conversely, there is no way that firing Wenger now will bring about the long-term permanent change people are looking for because it’s systemic. Faced with this unresolvable logical dichotomy the sports fan turns away from logic and to faith where they are presented with two options: the faith in Wenger to come good or the faith in the unknown and change. I choose the former.

Now that I have wasted 1/3 of today’s article (and an hour) on that, let’s get on with the Schalke preview.

My regular readers know that I hate making match predictions but I expect that today’s Champions League contest between Schalke 04 and Arsenal FC at VELTINS Arena will further test the faith of many Gunners.

Arsenal supporters would be fools to take Schalke’s loss to Hoffenheim on the weekend as a sign of weakness and to see Schalke as the perfect team for this ailing Gunners side to regain form. Hoffenheim were lucky, to say the least, and needed a penalty and a late goal to get three points from a Schalke team that dominated the home team for 90 minutes.

Uchida and Farfan bossed Arsenal in the last encounter at the Emirates stadium, taking full advantage of Arsenal’s weak link, left back Andre Santos, and the pair were imperious again against Hoffenheim. Uchida scored a goal and Farfan created an assist while helping Schalke to 73% possession advantage and 23-6 shots advantage. If the hustle numbers are dribbles, tackles, interceptions, and key passes Arsenal will do well to note that Farfan led Schalke with 8 dribbles, 5 key passes, and 4 tackles while Uchida also had 4 tackles and 5 interceptions to go with his goal.

Worryingly, Arsenal have the worst offense in the Champions League right now, with just 7.3 shots per game. Worse, it’s a feature of this Arsenal team that they have struggled offensively since returning from the international break. Lukas Podolski in particular has only had three total shots in Arsenal’s 3 losses and 1 win, with 2 of those shots coming in the 1-0 win over Norwich. And let’s not forget that it took Arsenal 92 minutes to get a shot off against Man U on Saturday, that they only attempted 6 dribbles, that they only tried 1 tackles, and that Arsenal were content to pass the ball around between Mertesacker and his defensive partners all afternoon.

Schalke on the other hand have one of the best home offenses and defenses in the Champions League. They managed 20 shots to Montpellier’s 5 in their only home fixture of this Champions League season. Schalke also outhustled Montpellier with 33 tackles and 25  interceptions (1st and 2nd respectively) and had 11 dribbles.

The Germans also have an unusual scoring record with the club getting two or more goals in all but two games this season, the 2-0 loss to Bayern and the 1-0 win over Nurnberg. And defensively Schalke had three consecutive clean sheets prior to the loss against Hoffenheim.

So, despite their recent loss to Hoffenheim, Schalke are in good form and they are a very tough home team. Meanwhile Arsenal looked like lambs led to slaughter just a few days ago against Man U.

Montpellier and Hoffenheim both got a result against Schalke by playing ultra-defensive football, something Arsene has done before when the Gunners were comprehensively beaten by Barcelona. Wenger spoke at his press conference about the need to hit transitions between defense and offense more quickly and combined with Schalke’s problems dealing with counter-attacking teams it makes me wonder if we might not see a more defensive approach from Arsenal tonight.

Arsene’s approach might be dictated by personnel available to him and Arsenal’s lineup is a bit of a question mark. Rumors have circulated that Arsene is going to drop Santos and play Vermaelen in the left back spot. Given the captain’s limited mobility and overall left-backedness that change would signal that essentially Arsenal are playing a 3-4-3 and while ideally I like the idea of a tactical change, the reality is that Wenger is extremely reticent to make major changes like that with the players he has. Thus, I expect Santos to start, unless there is an injury.

Up front there will be an enforced change as Ramsey was pulled out  of the United game with a hamstring injury. That leaves the right spot open and we could see either Theo Walcott or Andrei Arshavin get the start there. Arshavin might have to be the man as Theo apparently picked up an illness prior to the game. Both players have their strengths and weaknesses, but if Arsenal are going to try to play the defense first type of game that has some success against Schalke, Theo is the better choice. If Arsenal are going to try and peg the ball in the Schalke half (I’m not sure that’s even possible) then Arshavin is the better choice.

Finally, the bench is one of the weakest I have seen from an attacking point of view. If Walcott is sick, that leaves Arsene just Chamakh to bring on late to make a difference.

Right, there’s your 1000+ words. I will end with this: if Arsenal are at a moment of division between faiths and Arsenal’s faiths are being tested then many people are probably approaching this from the point of view of their two faiths. The pessimist is worried about Arsenal’s lack of goal scoring, limited options off the bench, and Schalke’s defensive acumen. The optimist is looking at Arsene’s record and his history as an attack-minded coach and saying that the offensive drought must end at some point.

Me? I see this game as yet another in a string of purple patches at Arsenal. The club is struggling to find form up front and while the breakthrough could happen at any moment I’m not betting on it today. Defensively, Arsenal can be gotten to and Farfan and Uchida could really cause trouble in the Arsenal back four.

My prediction (which are ALWAYS WRONG) is that this is going to be a tough game and that I think Arsenal’s goals drought will continue.

Someone better start praying for rain.


27 thoughts on “Schalke Away: pray for rain

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1feygooner


    Tim, I recall there was an article you wrote in which you said that you don’t feel patriotic. I’ve been trying to search for it but haven’t met with any success. If you remember which one it was could you give me a link? I’m writing an essay on lack of patriotism and I remember that you made some good points.

    On topic:

    I’m predicting a very narrow win for us with Schalke dominating. It’s probably not going to happen unless something is done about our left flank.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1feygooner

        Hmmm, seems like my memory was wrong then.

        Anyway, thanks for the link. Thank god we escaped the 6+5 rule *shakes head*

  2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    I think you give freshmen too much credit. If they could put together something even half as coherent as what you deliver every day, I’d be a very happy prof.

    You also give yourself too little credit. Most of your posts are not, in fact, streams of consciousness. You write with real purpose and clarity, while most of your posts are unified and driven by a particular theme or argument. Your music is Apollonion rather than Dionysian, which makes yesterday’s post something of an anomaly.

    That’s my take, anyway.

    Also, 3 or 4am? Are you kidding me? How do you function in the day?

  3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +117highburyterrace

    Tim, Stay strong my friend and write as you please. I (we) appreciate your dedication to the cause and hope you can enjoy the writing (if not the football)…..

    Big match tonight and I’m hoping things bounce our way. A couple of little tweaks to the line-up and better spacing might be nice as well, showing the sensei has (yet) a little flexibility left in him. Perhaps he’s even “managed” the squad into not letting the result from OT bother the players as (it could be argued) this match along with Fulham on Saturday are a double that will require our full attention(s). In fact, 4 of our next 5 league matches are against teams level or above us on points (without being among the Big 3)….. A realistic manager would keep the focus on the “winnable” trophies and this seems a key period…. A result tonight means more manageable tasks in the remaining CL games in front of the blase (to hostile/empty) home support….

    Anyhow, here’s to Keeping the Faith (or something)….And on that note, how goes the election back home?

    ***runs away***

  4. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    yeah…im kind of in the same camp in terms of keeping in faith with arsene. but i think now i’m more open to the idea that perhaps a new coach isn’t a bad idea after all.

    i’m not expecting much out of today’s game. a draw would be a good result. but most importantly, i want to see 100% effort by the players.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

      also, i’ve been reading your blog since 2008 i think. i like to think that i’m somewhat of a logical, reasonable person and as such the people whose writing i choose to read is woven from the same thread. whether i fundamentally agree/disagree with your writing, i never found any of them to be lacking internal logic.

  5. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    I’m not too nervous about this game, actually. Given the form of the two teams right now and adding our unsurprisingly long injury list, any points taken from this match would be a huge surprise and a bonus. If, as I expect, Schalke win, that pretty much sews up the group for them and leaves us needing points from both Montpelleier and Olympiakos. I’ll be keeping more than a casual eye on that game. Olympiakos are at home and if they win they would be equal on points with us with the actual placings dependent on goal difference. It could set up a very testing, nerve wracking winner take all game at their place.

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1JV Mauer

    Gee, thanks Tim. Now I’ve got Prince stuck in my head… “Polish rain! Polish rain!”… or perhaps the polish rain is a metaphor for Podolski, sliding past the defence, producing a torrential downpour of goals? “I only want to see you scoring; it’s Podolski’s reign.”

  7. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1dano328

    Every time Giroud misses a chance he spends 1.5 seconds in his “I screwed up,” hands in the air, regret. This needs to be drilled out of him.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Snatching a draw from the jaws of victory.

    Well, not even. I mean not really, because we scored those goals way too early. Given our quality of late, this Arsenal side is just not capable of killing off a match with in an early lead or holding back an in-form team like Schalke at their house.

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Cliffy

    Great point away from home…
    Yes we gave away that lead…But I’ll take this point than anything…

    Ruthlessness…where art thou?!?

    Today the team worked hard….for that point…and worked for eachother..
    We need to slowly build up our way through the rough patch..

    Mannone, played like a keeper befitting a CL team…

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    2-0 and you knew we were in trouble because Schalke hadn’t really started to play. Then they did play and we were always on the back foot in all categories.

    By the numbers:
    Arsenal passes forward: 10, maybe 15, backward/sideways: 300
    Cazorla slips:2, slips for a goal:1
    Mertesacker slip for almost a goal: 1
    Walcott successful dribbles: 0
    Arsenal time in Shalke’s final 1/3: 10min max
    Schalke’s time in Arsenal’s final 1/3: forever and a day
    You get the picture. We still continue to play like shite.

    MOTM: Mannone

  11. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Greg

    Was I the only one yelling that our far post was overloaded and wondering where our left back was just before the ball came over to Farfan, all on his lonesome? Was I the only one who assumed it was Kos who had scored another own goal? Was I the only one not surprised to see on the replays that Vermaelen had got sucked in to the centre and forgot he was a left back?

    Overall a solid performance and a good result. Nearly nicked it at the death, could also have lost it on more than one occasion. Much better all round than Old Trafford. Sagna and Wilshere both already improving after one match, Mannone very good, Kos and Mert good, midfield and forwards all put in a real shift. Look forward to seeing the stats. Schalke are a very good side, and a nice looking stadium by the way…

    … just saw the replay of Mannone’s save from an Afellay break on 8 minutes. Great stop.

    1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

      Tv5 got sucked into the center because he saw Holtby, a midfielder coming on a run into the box for a potentially free header. Neither Arteta or Jack sensed that run. If they had marked him as they should have, Vermalean wouldn’t have had to cover him and he would have been in position to deal with Farfan.

  12. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

    Very happy with the one point. We need to and should be able to get 3 points out of Montpellier at home. Come on Arsenal! Three points at the weekend now.

  13. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    Walcott squander two chances that could have been better for Giroud. One was when he was offside and behind him, Giroud wasn’t and the second was the last minute when again Giroud was behind or beside him.
    Arsene really have a tough job when he consider Walcott’s contract. If Walcott get his contract+guarantee to be a striker, then it will hamper our need to buy a predatory striker like Huntelaar or someone like that. It will also make us thin on the right wing position. But if we brought a new striker, then we will have a tough job with Walcott’s contract and we will need a new winger or put a heavy pressure on Miyaichi.

    1. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Wang

      Predatory is an interesting word. Watch Theo on the Giroud goal. OG made that goal, anticipating the cross and darting between the defenders to attack that ball and score.

      But Theo stands still towards the far side of the box, despite having Jack in front of him – in other words, Theo can see that the center is covered by JW on a rebound. He should be doing what Giroud does – as soon as he sees Podolski break for the touchline, he should be running to the back post in case Giroud misses/Podolski overhits the cross/keeper deflects the ball.

      Overall he had an above average game, but his lack of movement on that goal is emblematic for me of why Arsene is right and he’s not yet ready for the central striker role. Sure he’s had a few goals of late scored from a “central” (not left or right, but in front of the goal) position, but these are mostly 1-v-1s. Opportunistic but not yet a predator.

      1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

        I agree with that. But I thought he had it in him when he was at the Reading match. The problem is, Theo seems to think that he is ready for the central position. I saw Walcott in the Schalke match and personally I think he tried too much to prove a point that he is a central striker. Basically, in my mind, he seems to focus more about his own than his team. And it goes to my point, will Arsene risk losing Walcott or not? Both has a positive to our team BUT only if the right action been taken.

      2. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        Me, too. I was wondering if we’d signed him from United.

        If I could have any of United’s players, it would be Own Goal, Howard Webb, and Mike Dean.

      3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1PJ

        He was trying to show off that predator characteristic on that last chance at the end of the game. Shame he didn’t lay it off like he would have last year.

  14. Vote -1 Vote +1Jop

    Before the game I would have taken a draw.

    After the game, I’m disappointed. Once again we throw away a win by failing to close out a game.

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