Offshore Drilling, Champions League: at Schalke 2, Arsenal 2
Meeting for the second time in two weeks, Schalke again proved superior to Arsenal, even if Tuesday’s final score didn’t reflect their superiority. A first half error from midfielder Roman Neustädter (heading a long pass from Per Mertesacker back and beyond his defense) began a 10-minute dip that left Schalke down two after 26 minutes. The Germans eventually fought back through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán, salvaging a draw that keeps them on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group B.
Man of the Match: Paired with Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta has had to rekindle his defensive midfielder past to provide some deterrent at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Today, that deterrent was often pushed into the back, Arteta sliding into the left side of the Gunners’ defense to cover the space vacated by Thomas Vermaelen (as the Gunners’ makeshift left back went wide). The positioning paid off in the second half when Arteta was able to fall back and clear a ball off Arsenal’s line with his left shoulder.
In the other facet of his game, Arteta was his normal self, leading the team with 52 completed passes at an 82 percent rate. His best ball came in the build up to Arsenal’s second goal when he split Schalke’s defense with a 15-yard pass for Wilshere, who played the ball out before Lukas Podolski found Olivier Giroud to make it 2-0.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Schalke’s midfield variety is enviable.
There are better midfields in the world, but few provide the variety - the balance - of Schalke’s. Jermaine Jones provides a ranging, physical presence. The acquisition Neustädter has added some needed savvy and nuance. Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay provides a wide threat with the intricacy to contribute through the middle, while right win Jefferson Farfán is an imposing matchup for any opponent (as evidenced by Arsène Wenger’s decision to start Vermaelen ahead of Andre dos Santos at left back).
Lewis Holtby’s improvement has helped bring the group together. The 22-year-old occupies the playmaker’s role in Huub Stevens’ 4-2-3-1, leading the team to two goals per game in Germany. On Tuesday, his deft touch to knockout a ball for Klass-Jan Huntelaar allowed his striker to pull Schalke within one just before halftime.
Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are finally starting to contribute.
Podolski may had have his best day as a Gunner, putting in a strong defensive effort and providing good service from the left. While the German international’s provided mixed results over his first few months in London, Tuesday gave of a glimpse of what Arsène Wenger hoped he was getting when he brought 27-year-old in from Kohn this summer.
Another of the Gunners’ big summer buys, Olivier Giroud, had a more mixed day, yet he still provided fans a reason for hope. His diving header in the 26th minute was as assertive a play as we’ve seen from the France international since he arrived from Montpellier.
Arsenal needs ball winners.
None of Wilshere, Arteta, or Santi Cazorla are ball-winners, yet that’s the midfield Arsenal’s relying on while Abou Diaby’s out. If you want to know why Schalke was able to hold the ball for 57 percent of the game, consider the inadequate ball-winning abilities of that trio.
Arsenal’s able to get by with that threesome against most of the Premier League or against Olympiakos and Montpellier, the other teams in their Champions League group. Against Schalke - a very good but far from elite European team - it won’t work.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Schalke lost both of their right backs during Tuesday’s game. Starter Atsuto Uchida had to leave half-way through the first, with replacement Marco Hoger getting hurt in the second half. Höwedes finished the game at right back after Kyriakos Papadopoulos came on.
- Theo Walcott completed 14 passes. Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone completed 15.
- Arsenal’s substitutes tell you what they think of their point in Germany: Francois Coquelin and Andres dos Santos came on for Santi Cazorla and Podolski. Given Schalke close their group stage with Olympiakos and Montpellier, Wenger was effectively conceding the group to his hosts. We’ll see if Schalke gives it back.