Schalke preview: Wenger wants reaction and defensive improvement

So, we get back on the footballing horse that is the Champions League tonight with a game against Schalke 04, and Arsene Wenger is looking for a response from his players after the calamitous crapfest that was Norwich away.

You would hope the players would be out to prove a point too, having let themselves down at the weekend. With regards to team news the only returnee to the squad is Laurent Koscielny who has overcome a back problem, which means no place in this particular squad for Jack Wilshere or Bacary Sagna; the weekend, I suspect, will be a different matter entirely.

The manager is confident the display on Saturday is one which doesn’t accurately represent his team and expects some bouncing back this evening:

We have one priority and we try to respect it; to qualify for the next round. It will be interesting, a match of high intensity because German teams are everywhere.

We always want to win and we’ll need to be at our best level to win that match.

And while the focus is often on the attacking side of our game, and the fact we barely had a shot in anger against Norwich, the boss is looking for his defence to provide a more stable platform, having gone behind far too regularly for his liking:

It’s now five times that we’re 1-0 down against Montpellier, against City, against Chelsea, against Norwich and against West Ham.

You win one time, two times, but one time you will lose because the team who is there to defend thinks, ‘Oh, now we’re in a strong position, now we can really continue to focus on defending.’

Like many I think we’ve got an issue up front but I believe it’s more to do with players settling in than a lack of players. We cannot keep bemoaning the loss of the Dutch Skunk when we played all last season with him as, essentially, our only striker worth speaking of. We’ve brought in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud and while nobody can say they’re in quite the same class as the jazz-handed traitorous bastardfaced gleethound, I think now, after 10+ games this season, is when they really need to start producing on a more consistent basis.

We were never going to find one man to score 30+ goals (not with the way we spend money) so the idea is to share them around. I’d like to see us being a touch more direct in and around the final third, the willingness to shoot from distance is a good thing, and with two players in Podolski and Gervinho who can get wide it’d be good to see them produce decent delivery for Giroud in the centre, should he play. The suggestion from John Cross is that Gervinho will return to the centre, where he’s been oddly effective this season, with Ramsey on the right and midfield bolstered by The Coq. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, I have to say.

Again, much will depend on midfield, with the manager denying we’re overly-reliant on Santi Cazorla in order to perform. It’s becoming clear that he’s viewed, by players as much as fans, as our creative hub but he can’t do it all himself. It means there’s responsibility to be taken by those around him if he’s struggling to find a way through or being marked closely.

As for Schalke, I won’t claim to be any kind of expert but Lukas Podolski, who obviously knows more about them than most of us, says:

Schalke is a very strong team, the strongest we will face in the group stage. I know their coach, Huub Stevens, very well because he coached me for a season when I was at Cologne. They will be tough to beat, but we must go for the three points.

They come into this game boosted by a fine away win at Bundesliga champions Dortmund, and even if we might be quite worried about this one, they’ll be viewed as underdogs and will have nothing to lose tonight. I’ll go back to the manager’s earlier point, however, and our need to tighten up at the back. If we were being beaten by wonder strike after wonder strike, or being torn apart by great teams, that’d be one thing, but it’s pretty easy to see how we can improve back there.

It’s interesting to note that early season defensive improvement was entirely down to the promotion of Steve Bould and the problems we have now are 100% the fault of the manager. For me the truth is we are better organised defensively but haven’t yet managed to work that self-destruct button out our system. There’s still work to be done, no doubt about it. Let’s hope that we don’t concede first, better that we don’t concede at all, and that we find some attacking fluency again after the disappointment of last Saturday.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Arsenal’s AGM and tonight’s game could well have a bearing on the mood. Obviously there are questions that will be asked, and need to be asked, regardless of what happens tonight, but a more convincing performance might well take the edge off some of it. As usual we’ll have an eye-witness report for you as soon as we possibly can.

A reminder that if you can’t see the game later, and I know time-zones preclude many people from watching it, as always we’ll have full live blog coverage. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 6.45pm for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

If you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Fingers crossed we see a reaction tonight, this is not going to be easy by any means, but it’s hard to see us being as bad as we were against Norwich again. With our experience in this competition you’d be hoping we have just too much for the visitors, and a clean sheet would be nice too.

Till later.

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