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UCL: Stuttering Arsenal stunned at home by high-flying Schalke

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thomas_vermaelenArsenal’s season fell deeper into the mire at the Emirates as the Gunners were left ragged by Schalke in the Champions League, losing 2-0 to the German side on the back of a mediocre performance. Arsenal came into the game on the back of a disappointing loss to Norwich in the Premier League and they seemed to be affected by the same deficiencies as they lacked their usual rhythm in attack.

Gervinho moved into some great positions in the 1st half but was guilty of fluffing his lines at the vital moment while at the other end Schalke continually exploited the space available on the flanks, which eventually led to both the goals.

Both goals came late in the 2nd half as Schalke finally got their just rewards, with Klas Jan-Huntelaar netting the opener on 76 minutes before Ibrahim Afellay secured the pints ten minutes later following yet another breakaway. Schalke now leapfrog Arsenal and move into top spot in Group B, with a point separating the two at the midway stage.

Injuries to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain meant that Arsene Wenger put out a side loaded with midfielders. Mikel Arteta sat deep in the centre with Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla completing the attacking force behind Gervinho and Lukas Podolski. At the back, the usual pair of Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker controlled the centre while Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos stayed out wide.

An attacking line-up from Huub Stevens had Klas Jan-Huntelaar leading the line with support from the wide areas coming from Jefferson Farfan and Ibrahim Afellay while Lewis Holtby slotted into the attacking hole. Marco Hoger and Roman Neustadter shielded the back-four from their central midfield roles. Atsuto Uchida and Christian Fuchs flanked thee central defensive pair of Benedikt Howedes and Joel Matip.

It was a slow start to the game as Arsenal patiently proved around Schalke’s area, but with the Germans putting enough bodies at the back they were able to comfortably keep the home side at bay in the opening spell. The first time Arsenal stretched their opponents’ defence was when Podloski whipped in a cross from the left , which was met by Gervinho inside the box but the Ivorian could only flash his shot wide.

The speed of the visitors down the wings was visible from the start and Arteta’s misplaced pass in the middle allowed the visitors to break with pace, with Afellay and Vito Mannone caught in a moment of controversy. Afellay received a yellow card for a dive, although replays suggested that the keeper didn’t get the ball and made contact with the winger.

That proved to be the spur Schalke needed to raise their game as they threw bodies forward on every attack, using Farfan’s direct running as their main outlet. Arsenal then carved out Schalke with a lightening quick counter of their own, thanks to Cazorla who released Gervinho with a great first time pass. But the attacker was ponderous after racing into the box, allowing the visitors to clear.

It was the story of the half so far as neither side was able to clear any clear cut chances before the break. Vermaelen made a couple of vital interceptions during the latter part of the 1st period as Schalke were all over a disjointed Gunners outfit. Podolski came close just after the restart as he flicked Coquelin’s cross straight into the keeper’s hands. It was then Howedes’ turn to miss from close range as he skied Farfan’s delivery.

The referee had to reach into his pockets for yet another dive as Gervinho was cautioned for trying to con the officials by theatrically falling down with substitute Jermaine Jones for close company. The home side continued to see a lot of the ball, but like their performance at Norwich over the weekend they were toothless in the final third and in addition, Farfan was regularly raiding down the flanks.

And, it was the visitors who finally breached the wall as Huntelaar buried a half-chance that fell his way 14 minutes from time. Another move down the right-wing from Schalke ended with the ball loping to the middle before being headed forward, which fortunately fell right at the feet of Huntelaar as Arsenal’s centre-backs went missing and the Dutchman didn’t need a 2nd invitation to find the back of the net as he left Mannone helpless.

Vermaelen made a couple of vital interceptions during the latter part of the 1st period as Schalke were all over a disjointed Gunners outfit. But soon after making those changes Schalke doubled their advantage with a stunning breakway after gaining possession in the middle of the park, with Huntelaar’s Dutch team-mate Afellay getting on the scoresheet. The source was unsurprisingly the right-wing as Santos was caught too narrow, allowing Farfan to play a cut-back across the box for Afellay, who came in unmarked at the far post for a simplest of tap ins.

The surprise defeat puts an end to Arsenal’s proud record of never having lost at the Emirates to European opposition. But of more importance to Wenger is the form of Arsenal who looked woefully short of ideas once again and like last season could now pay the price by not sealing top spot in the group. Full-credit to Schalke though as they stuck to their game plan, taking the game to Arsenal by attacking them down the wide areas and thoroughly deserved the famous victory. Farfan was immense on the right-wing while Huntelaar once again showcased his poacher’s instinct. The Germans now control the group as they welcome the Gunners to their den in the next round of fixtures.

Teams:

Arsenal: Mannone, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, André Santos, Jenkinson (Gnabry 83'), Arteta, Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Coquelin, Gervinho (Giroud 75'), Podolski (Arshavin 83')

Subs: Shea, Koscielny, Djourou, Gnabry, Giroud, Arshavin, Chamakh

Schalke: Unnerstall, Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Fuchs, Höger (Jones 46'), Neustädter, Afellay, Holtby (Barnetta 65'), Huntelaar (Marcia 87'), Farfán

Subs: Hildebrand, Kolasinac, JJones, Barnetta, Moritz, Draxler, Marica

Final Score: Arsenal 0-2 Schalke (Huntelaar 76' ,Afellay 86')

File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel