Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Schalke 2-2 Arsenal: a frustrating but important point

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Before the game I was chatting with Andrew Allen and predicted a 2-2 draw with Giroud scoring twice. Andrew said he’d happily take that. Which isn’t to highlight my awesome psychic powers, I like to keep them under wraps lest I be plagued by police asking me to help them with cases, but to put the result in context even if the way it came about was a cause of frustration.

Going 2-0 up was a bit unexpected, particularly given the way we started the game, but it happened early enough that the home side had time to react. As expected Thomas Vermaelen was moved to left back with Andre Santos on the bench but if we were better down that side it was hard to tell really. We looked a team short on confidence and belief, understandable after Old Trafford and our general post-Interlull form.

So we needed a break of some kind and got it when an offside Giroud took advantage of a poor header, ran towards goal, got tackled in the box when he really should have scored, but the man whose stats so often belie his performances, Theo Walcott, came in, bundled it past the keeper and defender and put it into the empty net to make it 1-0. A couple of minutes later it was 2-0, this time Giroud made no mistake, heading home at the near post after a Podolski cross. The goal was quite similar to the one he scored against West Ham, in terms of the cross and general position, but the Schalke defender who stood watching him is likely to have had a right kick up the hole at half-time.

We really should have gone in 2-0 at the break, but the home side were boosted by a Santi Cazorla slip, a couple of quick passes and Huntelaar had the goal in his sights and his finish was unerring to get them back in it. Scoring just before half-time is always a boost to the team who are behind, obviously, but likely to put the heeby-jeebies into the one that was ahead, and in the second half that looked true of Arsenal.

At 2-0 up it seemed to me we had found some kind of rhythm, the passing and movement was better, a bit more confident, but with just a one goal lead instead of two the second half saw us under a lot of pressure as the fear kicked in again. Huntelaar should have equalised early on but Mannone made an excellent save to deny him. They had corners, we looked panicked, again the Italian was forced into making saves and the goal, when it came, was more or less inevitable.

That it went in off Thomas Vermaelen and into the record books as an own goal is typical of the form he’s in at the moment, but I don’t know that he could have done much else to prevent it. Farfan was left free at the back post, Vermaelen pulled out of position to cover a free man in the centre, and in trying to get across left enough room for the shot which cannoned in off his foot from close range. I’d like to have seen a bit more awareness from a midfielder in providing cover in that situation but it did happen at lightning speed.

They looked more likely to score again than we did but right at the death we could have nicked it. Theo Walcott was through, just the keeper to beat, with Giroud outside him. He went for the shot, it was weak and straight at the keeper, while Giroud, by far football’s most hilariously dramatic man, went full Platoon as he bemoaned the lack of a simple pass which would have given him a tap-in. I can understand why Walcott went for it, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it was a great chance to have taken 3 points we didn’t really deserve but would have delightfully gobbled up.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

For us it was important first of all not to lose and if possible to win. We managed the first part, not the second one.  The regret we have is that we conceded the goal just before half time and we missed the chance at the end of the game.

I think the two, of course, have a big impact on the result overall. Schalke never gave up and worked hard. I believe we have shown a good response to Saturday’s game and you feel the team is getting better.

If there’s frustration over the scoreline it’s more to do with the manner of it than the result itself. It’s a very useful point away from home against a very good side. And a side that turned us over at home a couple of weeks back. There are still things in our performance which need work, no doubt about that, but at this point we’re in game by game territory really.

It was important to get something from last night, and hopefully it boost the confidence a bit ahead of this weekend’s game against Fulham. Goals for Giroud and Walcott will do them good, an assist for Podolski too and it’s good to see him contribute. I have to admit slight concern over Santi Cazorla, he looks a bit tired, but with Wilshere suspended for Saturday he’s going to have to play again (then, sadly, Spain play away in Panama ahead of the Sp*rs game). No rest for the wicked or the irrepressibly cheerful, it seems.

Anyway, to conclude, not perfect but a bit better and with our next Champions League game a home tie against Montpellier we ought to more or less guarantee qualification with a win in that one.

How about some Leopold? Listen for the future on the real ANR.

Finally for today, you have until 2pm to enter this competition to win one of two sets of tickets for the Fulham game this Saturday. It’s open to UK residents only for logistical reasons, but the question shouldn’t prove too taxing. Go for it.

More tomorrow.

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