Farfan leveller leaves Arsenal up against wall
Schalke 04 2
Arsenal, who were "so bad it was frightening" in their game against Manchester United (according to the BBC's Alan Hansen), improved considerably on that performance, but still lost a two-goal lead here last night and with it the top position in Group B that they had technically regained at half-time.
A goal just before the interval by Klaas-Jan Huntelaaar, who has scored in all four of Schalke's Champions League games this season, was the spur the home side needed after Theo Walcott, starting at last, and Olivier Giroud had reversed the scoreline from the match at the Emirates a fortnight earlier.
Arsenal's rejigged defence was under severe pressure for most of the second half and Jefferson Farfan, another to impressive performer, drove in the equaliser midway through it. From then on survival was the aim and was just about achieved with backs firmly against the wall.
Olympiakos's predictable victory at home to Montpellier gave them six points, only one behind Arsenal, who still trail Schalke by one. Montpellier visit the Emirates next before Arsenal go to Piraeus.
Walcott's return was an overdue change, his stomach upset having improved sufficiently to merit the start that Arsene Wenger has been so reluctant to give him ever since the saga of his new contract began. With Wenger wanting his team to play a more attacking game, rather than worry about recent defensive frailty, it was noticeable that Jack Wilshere, in his first Champions League game for 20 months, played well ahead of Mikel Arteta in what was effectively a 4-1-4-1 formation intended to offer greater scoring potential.
So it proved when Arsenal finally settled, after being pushed back for the opening quarter-hour. In that period Huntelaar set up the left-back Christian Fuchs for a shot deflected for a corner and Vito Mannone had to save low down from Ibrahim Afellay. The third anxious moment came when Benedikt Howedes, the home captain, headed Farfan's corner narrowly over the bar.
But Arsenal survived and then suddenly prospered. In the 18th minute, Roman Neustadter's misplaced back-header allowed Giroud through and although Howedes seemed to have thwarted him with an excellent tackle, Walcott kept calm in dragging the ball away from the goalkeeper to score his eighth goal of the season.
Eight minutes later it was 2-0. Giroud was involved in the build-up, taking a pass from Wilshere and laying one out to Lukas Podolski before heading in the German's cross from six yards while unmarked.
In a pleasingly open game, Schalke continued to be roared on by a fervent German crowd and always looked as though they had at least one goal in them. Arsenal had finally left out the Brazilian full-back Andre Santos, not for his premature shirt-swapping at Old Trafford but because he had been taken to the cleaners by a succession of wingers, including Antonio Valencia and Schalke's Peruvian Farfan. When the home side again fed diagonal passes towards the corner flag last night they found Thomas Vermaelen for the most part -- although not always -- more adept at blocking off the space.
Several desperate blocks were required to keep the home side at bay and after Giroud had headed Arsenal's only other chance of the first half straight at Lars Unnerstall. Schalke scored in the final move before the interval. Santi Cazorla lost possession and Lewis Holtby laid a first-time pass off perfectly for Huntelaar, who scored in the first game, to do so again.
As the atmosphere intensified early in the second half, even with the stadium roof left open, so did the pressure on Arsenal, whose lead should have disappeared in the first Schalke attack. Huntelaar, who is allegedly interesting Liverpool, was sent clear and given onside but Mannone beat the shot away at the expense of a corner that led to a furious scramble. The London side eventually cleared,.
In the next attack Marco Hoger, an early substitute at right-back for Atsuto Uchida, hit the outside of a post and in the one after that Mannone could only push out a fierce drive from Holtby, the rebound just eluding Huntelaar.
Finally the home side drew level and deservedly so. Holtby missed a header but the ball dropped kindly for Farfan whose shot, bound for the far corner of the net, was helped in by Vermaelen.
There were only brief respites for Arsenal, their frustration increasing as their attacks tended to be halted by the officials if not the home defence. Podolski collected a yellow card for dissent when the referee stopped a promising thrust because Hoger was lying injured; then Walcott hit a post only to be given offside and was denied a penalty for a nudge just inside the area.
Indeed, Walcott might even have won the game but was denied by Unner-stall with almost the last kick. (© Independent News Service)