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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

When a good result is disappointing - Schalke 2 - 2 Arsenal

Theo couldn't quite do the same

If I'd been offered a draw before the game last night I would have snapped it up like a shot. Having been 2-0 up it becomes a disappointment. After being utterly destroyed by the same opposition a fortnight ago, and having been battered in a one-sided second-half last night, I suppose 2-2 should be seen as a blessed relief. A defeat, coupled with Olympiacos' win over Montpellier, would have put us in a seriously bad position with a trip to Athens ahead of us in the final game.
I thought for 35 minutes we played extremely well last night. Yes, Schalke had one or two chances where they got at the back four too easily, but we looked a genuine threat going forward, even if Giroud wasn't winning as much aerial ball as I would like. Wilshere was orchestrating things when he had the ball and it was obvious through his continual fouling that Fuchs was scared witless of Theo Walcott's pace. When we got the ball wide there was some good delivery in to the box, especially from Sagna - one cross took out both centre-halves but Podolski failed to attack the ball at the far post and allowed Ushida a comfortable clearance. When we got our first goal there was a slice of fortune as Giroud was offside when Mertesacker played the ball forward. It shouldn't matter that a Schalke player got a head to the attempted pass as our man was offside from the original pass towards him. I don't begin to understand the way this offside rule is being interpreted, but for me it was offside. Having got his luck Giroud then showed why he is frustrating. Faced with a sight of the goalkeeper one-on-one he never looked capable of scoring. If you watch the replay from behind the goal he actually kicks the ground and falls over as he goes to shoot, and he was very fortunate that Walcott was showing some poachers instincts by following up close behind. Theo's finish was really nice, and once again he showed that he is doing the business where it matters. More and more I am coming round to the idea that he should be given close to what he wants (if not the full amount) - at least that would call his bluff and we would know if he really wants to stay at Arsenal.
I don't think we got enough credit from the commentators for the second goal. Alan Smith and whoever the other bloke was seemed to determined to make out we only scored as the opposition had just made a substitution. The fact was that Podolski, who looked quicker and sharper last night than in recent matches, showed his strength and superb ability to deliver a cross that was begging to be buried. Giroud lost his man well in the middle and planted a header in from close range. It was a proper centre-forward's goal and at 2-0 we were flying. Schalke were all over the place and were there for the taking. Arsenal had shown that the Germans were not all that at the back and we should have driven home the advantage.
As is so often the case we failed to capitalise yet again on a two goal start. There was an immediate return to our "possession" game, otherwise known as passing the ball square and backwards all the time. For a team that enjoys so much of the ball our centre-backs have an inordinate number of passes to make. I can't remember Campbell and Toure being integral to every move when the Invincibles were around, and that side really did dominate the ball. Both goals had come from moving the ball forward quickly (that doesn't mean long balls) and finding runners in attacking areas - a ball played in front of someone rather than to their feet is always going to get you going forward. It was all very pretty, but there was no threat anymore. And then it started. I don't like to criticise those who have travelled to an away game, but why do these cretins insist on "ole" shouts as soon as we're a goal or two up and string more than five passes together? If watching Arsenal over the last few years has taught you anything it should be that such nonsense is not acceptable unless we're five goals up with ten minutes to play. These prats will never learn. Within two minutes of it starting Cazorla fell over when trying to be too clever and Schalke scored with the last kick of the first-half. Ultimately it was that moment that cost us the win.
The second-half was almost one way traffic apart from three moments of note for Arsenal. The first came straight from the kick-off when Podolski put in a gorgeous cross for Giroud, but he went for a spectacular volley instead of a simple header and messed it up badly. The second was when Podolski went through on goal only for the referee to stop play due to a leg injury for their replacement full-back. On a night where the referee was very impressive it was an unacceptably bad piece of officiating. You would have to think that Podolski would either have scored or created a goal from that position. The final moment for Arsenal was the last action of the game when Theo bundled his way through brilliantly, in Michael Thomas style, only to not quite read the Anfield script and scuffed his right-footed finish in to the legs of the goalkeeper. A winner would have been smash and grab in the circumstances, but that's football and Schalke had not taken their chances in the second-half. It was a shame as it was all Walcott's own work and a goal there would have really pressed his claims for more regular football (in his interview after the game it was obvious that the lad is not well either, so all credit to him for still being in the game at the ninety minute mark).
The rest of the second-half was a return to a lacklustre Arsenal being battered. Wilshere became more and more a passenger (which is to be expected) and Arteta was having to play the role of three men in midfield. I am rapidly running out of patience with Cazorla as he is no more adept at putting in the hard yards than the much maligned Arshavin. Eventually the pressure told when nobody tracked Holtby's run in to the penalty area, causing Vermaelen to have to leave Farfan (who looks a real player) at the far post. The goal was certainly deserved for the home side, but that makes it no less disappointing. Aside of that we had Vito Mannone to thank for the point. The big Italian was outstanding again in goal, making save after save. In fairness to the back four they were only really breached on one occasion, when Mannone saved one-on-one with Huntelaar, but there was too much space in front of them. Time and again players got between the midfield and defence and nobody closed down properly, allowing free shots on goal. Mannone was well within his rights, more than once, to scream at those ahead of him for the lack of protection. Having said that I thought we looked much better with Mertesacker and Koscielny in the middle (Alan Smith claimed that the BFG was having a bad night at one stage but I'm not sure what game he was watching, to be honest).
We probably deserved the draw after the first-half display and Mannone's excellence thereafter. A win would have been great, but it wasn't to be. At least we didn't lose, and that is very important. If both Arsenal and Schalke win their next games, both at home, then we are through. If Schalke draw with Olympiacos, and we beat Montpellier, then we will go to Athens with work to do, despite going there top of the group. In that situation the Greeks would have to better our 3-1 win over them in the second group game, which means Aaron Ramsey's injury-time goal could be the most crucial of our Champions League season.
More tomorrow.

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