It wasn’t good last night, but let’s not get carried away. We lost to an extremely good side; they pressed us intensely throughout the match, and possess an attack which could hurt the best. Any team who defeats Borussia Dortmund on their own patch is, by implication, a top side, barring in mind Dortmund beat Real Madrid last night.
Having said that, there are several issues to highlight. Firstly, the decision to shove Podolski out wide. I understand this when we are playing away, as he adds protection down the left flank, but surely when we are at home, we should be taking the game to the opposition?
Podolski’s influence on the game is significantly reduced when he is shunted on the left. If the reason behind it is that Gervinho won’t work as hard in comparison if he plays there, then that is a bit of a joke. Give him a kick up the arse and make him, because the team can’t afford to sacrifice Podolski’s natural finishing ability as a striker.
The decision to play Gervinho rather than Giroud was a strange one. The big man has started to show some form for club and country (forget about Norwich – everyone had a stinker) and would have at least added a focal point to our attack. With Gervinho there, we just seem a bit lost a times – as does he.
There was no penetration, pace or cohesion in the final third, nor did we apply any sustained periods of pressure on goal – our sole shot on target was the penultimate kick of the game, by Serge Gnabry.
I joked before the match that I hoped I wouldn’t be saying ‘the only positive to take from the game was Gnabry’, like we all did after Norwich. Unfortunately, that was exactly what I said again.
The youngster did well, and mesmerised the crowd with a wonderful scoop turn with his first touch after coming on. He received a harsh lesson though, when he gave the ball away in the middle of the park, which led to Schalke’s second.
Furthermore, the reactiveness of the players and the coaching staff was quite exasperating. Andre Santos was targeted the whole game. It was abundantly clear he was being left too exposed, defending against Farfan and the constantly overlapping full back Uchida. He clearly needed help. 60,000 fans could see it, Bould must have seen it. But nothing was done.
It’s down to the player to scream at his teammates to help him out, but Santos evidently failed to do so. Then it’s down to the coaching staff. At half time, surely Steve Bould addressed the situation, but it continued throughout. This, it must be said, is very disappointing. You want the team to be alert and proactive, instead they were mute and reactive. Nothing was done. And we faced the consequences.
I don’t want to be overly critical, but Santos is not a defender. As well as playing Huntelaar onside for their opening goal, he also played Holt onside against Norwich. In Gibbs’ absence, I would be inclined to choose Miquel at left back. A natural defender, tall, disciplined, and by no means a slouch.
The past days have really highlighted the unpredictability of the Champions League. I think to remain objective about the Schalke game, you must notice how the gap in quality between teams has drastically reduced; United scrape past an average Braga side, Chelsea deservedly beaten by Shaktar, Juve scraping a draw against Danish part-timers, Malaga beating Milan, Barca needing a scruffy last gasp winner against Celtic, Madrid losing to a Dortmund side that lost to Schalke, and so on.
Just a few weeks ago, we were praising the apparent strength in depth of our squad. However last night, Giroud was our only first team player on the bench, and we face the familiar scenario of a squad depleted through injury.
We are second in our group and finishing top is still achievable, so it’s not quite time to get your bin bags out.
Published with permission from The Wonder of Wenger.