Champions League: Schalke 2-2 Arsenal
The 4th round of the Group B fixtures saw Arsenal square off against Schalke 04 at the Veltins-Arena. Arsenal went into the match on the back of an embarrassing loss to their rivals Manchester United over the weekend. Schalke weren’t in the best of forms either as a 5 match lossless streak in the Bundesliga was ended by Hoffeniheim who broke Schalke hearts by grabbing a last minute winner. Schalke were top of Group B with a slim 1 point margin over the Gunners. They had won 2-0, at the Emirates in the last round of matches.
Arsenal, plagued by injuries to key players such as Gibbs, Diaby, Gervinho, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain, started the match with captain Vermaelen playing on the left side of a central defensive partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny. Sagna started at right back with Vito Mannone in goal. Up front, Walcott shook off the stomach troubles he was reported to have to play on the right side of Giroud with Podolski completing the attacking trident. In midfield, Arteta started in his now familiar anchor role with Wilshere and Cazorla ahead of him.
Schalke had a major change in Matip coming on for Papadopoulos who started on the bench owing to a gash above his eye, suffered during the previous match. The defence, hence, consisted of Matip, Howedes, Uchida and Fuchs. Neustadter and Jones were deployed as dual anchors with Holtby slightly ahead of them. The usual front three of Afellay , Huntelaar and Farfan started the match as well.
The match started off with Schalke pretty much on the front foot with attack after attack as they tried to exploit Arsenal on the counter. But Koscielny was more than equal to the task of man marking Huntelaar – not an easy task – but he came out on top in the early exchanges. Vermaelen didn’t seem very confident out left but was decent overall. Afellay had a chance at the end of a good counter attack but his shot was saved well by Mannone. Just past the 10 minute mark a corner was headed just above by Howedes who should have done better from that position. A couple of minutes later, Uchida had a good run down the left but took the ball out of play when he should have crossed. Arsenal enjoyed possession but were rather toothless.
But it all changed in the 18th minute as an Arsenal defensive clearance was only headed onto the path of Giroud near the half way line. He continued his run forward and was tackled just when he entered the penalty box. But Walcott was on hand as he lobbed the ball past the keeper and stroked it calmly into the open net. Arsenal were starting to get a strong foothold on the game. Cazorla got the game’s first booking for a handball. Schalke had a few set pieces but couldn’t make a telling impact. Schalke’s first booking of the match was to Matip who brought Cazorla down as the latter attempted a quick counter. More misery to the home side as right back Uchida was taken off to be replaced by Hoger.
An Arsenal counter saw Podolski make a good run down the left before crossing to Giroud who was unmarked near the 6 yard box. He met the cross with a good diving header, putting the ball past an hapless Unnerstall. Schalke pressurized Arsenal but the Gunners looked solid in defence. Fuchs got a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Walcott.
Then at the stroke of half-time, Arsenal failed to clear the ball to safety after repeated attempts. Cazorla lost the ball in midfield and Holtby treaded a good ball onto Huntelaar who was unmarked on the Right side, edge of the box. His low shot went past Mannone perfectly into the Bottom corner. It was his 4th goal in 4 Champions League fixtures so far this season as he seemed to justify his nickname, Hunter. Hence Arsenal went into the break leading by a goal.
The second half started with Arsenal looking assured in possession. Podolski made a good run and crossed to Giroud whose volley went rather wide when a header seemed the better option. Huntelaar caught Arsenal totally off guard as he was played one-on-one, but Mannone came out on top when it mattered. The Keeper didn’t put a foot wrong throughout. Afellay had a few good runs but hardly any impact. On the 55th minute, a Schalke corner ensued a melee in the Arsenal box with Mertesacker seemingly handling the ball. But the referee would have none of it. Arsenal wasted a couple of good free kick opportunities as Schalke got their 9th corner which Hoger headed onto the outside of the post.
The Referee was mobbed by Arsenal plays when the referee stopped play when Podolski was alone in the box as Hoger remained on the ground injured. A furious Podolski was shown a yellow card. Holtby then had a good shot that was again saved well by Mannone. Papadopoulos replaced Hoger who still seemed injured.
Schalke equalized after a Holtby header somehow found its way to Farfan as his shot was put into his own goal by Vermaelen, who should have been defending Farfan instead of getting onto the middle of the defense. The shot though was heading into the goal either way as Schalke got back into the match. Schalke and Arsenal had few chances of worth. Jones got a yellow card for a foul on Vermaelen. On the 85th minute, a clash between Vermaelen and Howedes seemingly left the Arsenal captain injured. But he was back soon. Arsenal then got in Coquelin and Santos in the 90th minute, hence ensuring that Santos would get a chance at swapping at least one shirt with a Schalke player. 4 minutes of injury time was indicated. And a late chance found Walcott one-on-one with Unnerstall but he could only hit the ball at the keepers’ legs as the match petered out for a draw.
Not a bad result for both teams as Schalke remain on top, though Arsenal aren’t very ahead of Olympiakos now, who won their match against Montpellier. But a point away to the second placed German team in the league, without any new injuries does seem like a good day in the office for Wenger. The takeaway for Arsenal would definitely be their passing game which seems to be a direct result of confidence among the players. A big month lies ahead for both the team and having put this match aside, they will now look to climbing up their respective leagues.
So, who do you think was the man of the match? Do drop in a comment below.