Arsenal hosted Schalke in their third match of the Champions League group stage at the Emirates last night. Francis Coquelin got a rare start for the hosts while Olivier Giroud was on the bench. For the visitors, Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay started on the left wing, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar spearheading their attack. After the disappointing showing against Norwich City over the weekend, it was important for the Gunners to redeem themselves with a good performance against the the German side, knowing that a win would put them on the threshold of qualification into the round of 16.
The first noteworthy moment of the game came in the 9th minute when Lukas Podolski‘s cross from the left found Gervinho but he was well marked and could not direct his shot on target. Schalke had an appeal for a penalty in the 14th minute when Afellay, who was put through, was seemingly felled by Vito Mannone but the referee booked the Dutchman for simulation. Soon after, Thomas Vermaelen was yellow carded for bringing down Jefferson Farfan, who took the ensuing free kick himself, but it was overstruck and sailed away harmlessly. In the 19th minute, there was good link up play between Gervinho and Podolski in the visitor’s penalty area, with the German’s cut back beating the Schalke keeper Lars Unnerstall, but finding no Arsenal man to apply the finishing touch to it.
Most of Schalke’s attacks were coming from their right and in the 32nd minute, one such foray resulted in a chance for Farfan from a cut back, but his shot was charged down by Per Mertesacker, who was having a good game for the home side. In the 43rd minute, the Germans had a great opportunity when a pass from the centre of the pitch found Atsuto Uchida in acres of room on the right. He in turn passed the ball into Huntelaar, but the Schalke striker’s attempt was wide off the near post.
The second half got off to an entertaining start with both teams pushing forward. In the 47th minute, Cazorla dummied one defender and got past another before feeding Andre Santos on the left. The Brazilian’s cross reached Coquelin, who did well to drive forward and fire in a pass to Aaron Ramsey, but the Welshman was well guarded by the Schalke captain Benedikt Howedes and the ball ended up being deflected into the keeper’s hands.
In the 50th minute, Schalke had a great chance of their own when Farfan easily skipped passed Santos and cut back to Howedes, but the German could not keep his shot down. Farfan continued to enjoy a lot of freedom on the right and in the 64th minute, sent in a teasing cross which Huntelaar could not convert.
In the 75th minute, Arsenal looking to bolster their attack, brought on Giroud for Gervinho, who had been booked just a couple of minutes earlier for diving in the Schalke penalty area. But instead it was Schalke who took the lead in the 77th minute. It was a goal that came out of nothing when a header from Afellay found Huntelaar on the edge of the Arsenal box, clear on goal and his rasping shot beat Mannone, who, judging by how close the ball passed to him, should have dealt with it better.
Arsenal responded by bringing on Andrei Arshavin and Serge Gnabry for Podolski and Jenkinson respectively. With the home side pushing up the pitch, the danger was always going to be them being exposed at the back. Arsenal’s worst fears were confirmed when in the 85th minute, after they lost the ball in the Schalke half, substitute Jermaine Jones went driving into Arsenal territory before laying the ball off for Farfan on the right. The winger took his time, and picked out an unmarked Afellay on the far post who easily slotted the ball home to send droves of Arsenal fans towards the stadium exits.
Arsenal had one late opportunity for a consolation when Gnabry’s effort was parried away by Unnerstall towards Cazorla, but the Spaniard shot well over with the goal open. It summed up a disappointing night for the Gunners, one where they were able to muster only a single shot on target. In the end, Schalke were deserving winners and find themselves on top of Group B for their efforts.