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.