Goals: Walcott (18), Giroud (26), Huntelaar (45+2), Farfan (67)
Arsenal surrendered a two goal lead at Veltins Arena, but managed to hold on to a useful point in the Champions League.
Arsenal had a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vito Mannone started at the goal. Vermaalen was shifted to left back instead of the accident-waiting-to-happen Andre Santos. Koscielny was paired with Mertesacker at the center of the defence. Bacary Sagna started at right back. In central midfield, Jack Wilshere was paired with Mikel Arteta. Podolski was on the left, and Walcott was on the right. Cazorla was behind Giroud who started as the central striker.
Schalke started the game with menace and found early chances. A good Schalke counterattack that developed from their left was quickly switched to the right flank by Holtby, but Fuch’s shot was deflected for a corner. Minutes later, when Podolski lost the ball, Schalke released Afellay on the left. The Dutch winger took the direct route to the goal and his shot was well saved by Mannone at the near post.
In the first 15 minutes, Arsenal found it difficult to retain possession in Schalke’s half. When they took the lead, it was against the run of play. Mertesacker’s aimless clearance was headed by Neustadter towards his own goal, and Giroud found himself facing only Unnerstall to beat. Before the Frenchman could pull the trigger, he was tackled by Howedes, but Walcott scooped the ball over Howedes and the goalie and found the empty net.
The visitors gained more confidence with the goal, and started passing the ball more crisply in the Schalke half. They were also fortunate to see Schalke’s marauding right back Uchida getting injured and replaced by Hoger. A minute after this substitution, Arsenal extended their lead. Cazorla’s brilliant angled ball found Wilshere on the right channel. The midfielder cut inside to his favorite left foot and tried to play Giroud in. As the move looked intercepted, the French striker was able to take a touch towards Podolski on the left. The German was under the close attention of Hoger, yet he managed to send in a delicious cross into the 6-yard box which was met by Giroud’s diving header. Arsenal were 2-0 up after their tentative start.
After taking a two goal lead, Arsenal started sitting deeper and invited the Schalke pressure which duly arrived. The home team did not allow Arsenal to slow the tempo and continued to attack with width on both flanks. Five minutes before the half time whistle, Farfan skinned Vermaalen on the right and scooted towards the goal, yet his shot missed the the target by a small margin. It looked essential for Arsenal not to concede before half-time, but Schalke’s pressure paid off in the second minute of extra time. Arteta intercepted a ball in front of the box and played it to Cazorla. Facing his own goal and surrounded by 3 Schalke players in the middle of Arsenal’s half, the Spaniard slipped and lost possession. The speed that Schalke worked this ball was impressive. The ball was immediately played to the edge of the box to Holtby who flicked it towards Huntelaar with a single touch. The Dutch striker’s left footed finish found the net at the far post.
The aggressive start Schalke had to the second half signaled that Arsenal would have a very hard time holding on to their narrow lead. Schalke attacked in waves, and Arsenal had to option but to sit deeper except an early sortie into the opposition half when Podolski’s deep cross was volleyed wide by Giroud. Arsenal tried to absorb the growing pressure, yet Schalke’s width on both flanks allowed the home team to stretch Arsenal. Their constant and purposeful movement created space despite Arsenal defending with every player except Giroud behind the ball. First, Huntelaar was slipped behind Arsenal’s defence and Mannone prevented a certain equalizer. Minutes later, when Arsenal failed to clear a ball inside the box after a corner, Mertesacker’s block raised appeals for a hand-ball. Holtby was set up for a shot outside the box after another good move, but Mannone managed to parry away his difficult shot.
The goal that the home side scented arrived shortly after the 65th minute, when Afellay sneaked behind Sagna and sent in a deep cross from the left. The excellent Holtby’s header flicked the ball to the unguarded space on Arsenal’s left as Vermaalen had come inside to meet the cross. Farfan controlled the ball completely unmarked, and his low shot was deflected in byVermaalen, although probably it was already going in.
In the remaining 20 minutes, the home side’s pressure considerably eased, Arsenal started to push forward, yet both sides looked happy with a draw. Probably, Schalke was tired after the effort they showed to close the two-goal deficit, and Arsenal did not want to concede another goal by opening up too much. What was somewhat disappointing on the night was Santi Cazorla’s performance as the Spaniard looked quite tired and was not able to orchestrate a quick counterattack to finish off the hosts during the period when they were pushing forward for an equalizer. In the very last minute of the game, Walcott found himself facing only the Schalke goalie to beat after a flick through the center, yet his weak attempt was denied by Unnerstall.
After a string of extremely disappointing performances in recent weeks, this was better from Arsenal, despite the fact that they surrendered a two-goal lead. Arsenal still have a very good chance of reaching the knock-out stages, and given the low confidence level they had coming to this game, this useful point is something that they can hopefully build on.