Sunday 22 April 2018

Slick Schalke ring the alarm bells for misfiring Gunners

Arsenal 0 Schalke 2
Champions League Group B

Gunned down: Arsenal players look dejected after Schalke's third goal at the Emirates. Photo: Getty Images
Gunned down: Arsenal players look dejected after Schalke's third goal at the Emirates. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

As Ibrahim Afellay applied the finishing touch last night to Schalke's fully deserved win, the Emirates suddenly resembled a stadium in which there had been an emergency fire drill.

Alarm bells had already been ringing after Saturday's abject defeat against Norwich and, with their team comprehensively beaten for the second time in five days, thousands headed for the exit, collectively shaking their heads in disgust.

This morning, many of those same supporters will return to the Emirates for the club's AGM and the opportunity to directly vent their frustrations at manager Arsene Wenger and majority owner Stan Kroenke.

The positives were almost non-existent last night but, in the plus column, Wenger should at least have little difficulty in persuading Kroenke of the urgent need for a new centre-forward in January.

The rotation of the Arsenal strikers had continued as Gervinho, who has actually been most prolific of the Robin van Persie impersonators, moved back into a central role in place of Olivier Giroud.


It meant relegation to the substitutes bench for Giroud and another rearranged central midfield for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta, so reliable as the new anchorman following the sale of Alex Song, was partnered by Francis Coquelin, while Aaron Ramsey was again pushed into a slightly unfamiliar role on the right.

Arsenal began brightly, controlling possession in the opening 10 minutes without really unlocking Schalke's defence. Ramsey threatened with one probing pass but Gervinho wasted the position and was also then just unable to get onto the end of Lukas Podolski's cross.

Gervinho's unpredictability is, at the same time, both his greatest strength and weakness and so it was impossible to know what to expect when he did then surge clear behind the Schalke defence.

A roar of expectancy briefly engulfed the Emirates and then, rather true to form, he hesitated, lost his footing and Benedikt Howedes rather effortlessly snuffed out the danger. Gervinho, though, is nothing if not honest in his work-rate and willingness to keep running at defenders.

Undeterred, he continued to link most of Arsenal's best attacks and stretch Schalke's defenders with his movement. A clever pass to Carl Jenkinson created another chance shortly before half-time but the delivery of the final ball was again lacking.

Schalke had come into the game off the back of an impressive victory over Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga champions, and their threat was also evident throughout an entertaining and open first-half.

Ibrahim Afellay, previously a transfer target of Wenger, broke into the penalty area and, even after losing control of the ball, provoked a rash challenge from Vito Mannone in the Arsenal goal. Afellay, though, was clearly going to ground before any contact with Mannone, with referee Jonas Eriksson correctly waving away the penalty appeal and also producing a yellow card for the dive.

Jefferson Farfan, cutting in from the right, also reacted theatrically under a challenge from Thomas Vermaelen but, on this occasion, it was the Arsenal captain who rather harshly received a booking.

Schalke maintained their pressure at the start of the second half. Andre Santos always has the look of a full-back who is rather more comfortable on the attack and, as he wandered out of position, Farfan broke clear down the right. His cross was perfectly weighted for Howedes, who had timed his run perfectly into the penalty area, but the finish, fortunately for Arsenal, was that of a centre-back.

At the other end, it was Gervinho who was still providing Arsenal's moments of greatest hope and frustration all rolled into one. Drifting again into his more natural position out wide, he got behind right-back Astuto Uchida, but could then only cross into an empty penalty area.

Arsenal's supporters, however, were then given a glimpse of the poise and clinical finishing that Gervinho and their team had so lacked. A loose ball in midfield was not attacked by any of the midfield, allowing Afellay to dissect Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker with a weighted header.

Huntelaar duly pounced and, with the precision that helped him amass 48 goals last season, he smashed his low finish past Mannone.

More dreadful defending following as Farfan again got behind the hapless Santos and crossed for Afellay to apply a deserved cushion to the scoreline. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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