I think most Gooners would’ve taken a point before kick off considering how poor we’ve been of late, but this was a bittersweet draw. The performance was patchy and we were second best for most of the night. We also blew a two goal lead that had been gifted to us and missed a glorious opportunity to snatch an undeserved winner in injury time — very frustrating.
We started as most observers had predicted we would — on the back foot. Mannone had to make a smart low save to keep out Affelay’s effort as the German side dominated the first 15 minutes before a hapless Schalke player headed Mertesacker’s hoof straight into the path of Giroud. The Frenchman showed the poise and touch of a man with no confidence as he somehow managed to kick the ground instead of the ball and was lucky that the alert Walcott nipped in to tidy up his mess. How nice to have someone with a bit of pace in the attack after Saturday’s impotent effort.
The home side were a little shell-shocked and some hesitant defending by their stand-in right back allowed Podolski to get in an excellent cross which Giroud powered home as the defenders stood and watched. Amazingly, that was our first headed goal of the season. 2-0 up after 26 minutes and we’d hardly created anything of note — just the tonic we needed, thank you very much.
Wenger shows the strain as we throw it all away
The key to the game was always going to be could we get to the break two goals up because Schalke soon recovered their composure and started knocking at the door. It was left ajar in stoppage time when Cazorla lost possession cheaply and the ball was worked to Huntelaar, who finished sweetly with the last kick of the half.
At 2-1 it was game on and you just knew we would concede more. Giroud missed a half chance at the start of the second half, but after that it was one way traffic as the Germans laid siege to our goal. We were being penned back so much that we couldn’t even create on the counter and Huntelaar had a one on one chance after eluding Mertesacker, but Mannone stood up well and blocked it. The much-maligned Italian was having a good game to follow on from his decent performance at Old Trafford, but we all know the next clanger is just around the corner — like many of our squad players, he simply isn’t good enough.
The inevitable happened when Farfan drilled a shot towards the far corner which Vermaelen deflected in and with 23 minutes remaining the smart money was on Schalke to go on and get the winner.
Luckily for us, the Germans decided a point would do them at that stage and eased back into second gear, cruising through the rest of the match and laying off our stretched defence. Good job too because if they’d needed to go for all three points they’d have got them.
It nearly came back to bite them on the arse in injury time when another woeful backpass put Walcott clean through, but his weak effort was kicked away by the keeper and the chance of a smash and grab victory was gone.
With Olympiacos winning we are now only a point clear of them and could do with Schalke beating the Greeks for us next time out, or we’ll have to get a result in Athens in the last match which I’m not confident about. After all, it says much that tonight our best two chances came from poor backpasses rather than any incisive attacking play on our part. As for our defending, it was still as shaky as ever even without Santos there and it’s a sad indictment on the (lack of) strength of our squad that Wenger would rather move our best centre half out wide than play our deputy left back.
So we have three home fixtures in a row now and it’s fair to say this is make or break time. Fulham and Spurs in the league will be formidable challenges and ones we mustn’t shirk if the battle for fourth place is to be won. Then it’s Montpellier in a must-win match or a last 16 place will be extremely tough. Crucially for Wenger, anything less than three wins will put even more pressure on him and that’s a very big ask with his team looking so short on confidence and quality at the moment.
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