Arsenal heading for AGM backlash after Schalke storm the Emirates
Champions League: Arsenal 0 Schalke 2
Arsenal saw their seemingly serene Champions League progress rudely interrupted as they were resoundingly beaten by the impressive Germans of Schalke at a disgruntled Emirates.
Late strikes from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay saw the Bundesliga side climb above the Gunners at the top of Group B, and they will now be favourites to win it given they host Arsenal in Germany next up on November 6.
Not since Inter Milan handed out a European lesson with a 3-0 win at Highbury in September 2003 had the Gunners been beaten at home by foreign opposition, a run lasting nine years and 44 games. Manchester United, 3-1 winners in the 2009 semi-final second leg were the English exception.
But Schalke gradually realised throughout the game that they were playing an Arsenal side who, as they had been in East Anglia at the weekend, were totally lacking in creativity, urgency, and defensive cohesion.
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Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, watching on from the stands, and Arsene Wenger can now expect a frosty reception at the club’s AGM on Thursday morning.
Furious fans left early and let both manager and board know in no uncertain terms what they thought of a second defeat inside four days that has rocked the Gunners in the two competitions that really matter.
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While knockout stage qualification is still very much in Arsenal’s hands, they will need to improve rapidly ahead of their trip to the Ruhr in a fortnight’s time.
Wenger had talked up Schalke’s ability before the game, and they always looked dangerous. After just 12 minutes came a moment that could have altered the game hugely. Afellay broke into the box and tried to go round Vito Mannone, at which point the Gunners keeper appeared to bring him down.
However, the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson felt that the Dutchman had made the most of the opportunity and booked him for diving, to the disbelief of the Schalke bench. Replays were inconclusive, but there was certainly some contact. A penalty, and a potential red card for Mannone, would have been a huge blow to the Gunners, but as neither materialised the moment was soon forgotten.
There was no such reprieve for Thomas Vermaelen a minute later as he entered Eriksson’s book for a challenge on Jefferson Farfan. Schalke made their attacking quality known from the early moments.
Wenger had opted to play Gervinho in the lone striking role, a curious reward for his insipid display at Carrow Road, but the Ivorian seems to have preferred playing up front, and at home, so far this season.
He appeared to be clear midway through the half only to turn back into trouble and run into the imposing figure of Schalke captain Benedikt Howedes. Unlike the previous continental visitors Olympiakos, the German side always looked like a tough unit to break down.
Much as they had done up at Norwich, Arsenal lacked any real zip to their play. The best glimpses of openings seemed to fall to Gervinho, but he seldom chose the right option, to the growing annoyance of the Emirates crowd.
Lukas Podolski had an entirely anonymous opening 45 minutes against his countrymen, whose supporters know only too well the capability of the former Cologne and Bayern Munich striker who has over 100 Germany caps to his name.
Three minutes before the break Schalke really should have broken the deadlock. The Japanese right-back Atsoto Uchida was played in behind a sluggish Andre Santos, and crossed for Huntelaar who sidefooted wide from close range. It was a lucky escape for the Gunners, and walking in at half-time they knew it.
With Wenger serving the third and final game of his touchline ban, the half-time pep talk was left to Steve Bould and it wasn’t a hard one to make: raise your game.
The second half was immediately more entertaining, and Schalke had replaced Marco Hoger, who had been booked in the first half, with the American Jermaine Jones.
Within two minutes of the restart Arsenal broke through on the right of the box and Francis Coquelin just failed to pick out Aaron Ramsey. Then Schalke missed their second golden chance of the night when Farfan left Santos in his wake and pulled the ball back to the penalty spot where Howedes arrived from the back only to sky his effort over the crossbar.
As the hour mark came and went Bould must have been starting to think about his substitutions. However, with the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the obvious missing ingredient to Arsenal’s attack – pace – was not readily available on the bench.
Striking reinforcement was required, a point underlined when Gervinho wriggled free to deliver a cross on 65 minutes, but there was nobody in the penalty area to meet it, save from Ramsey desperately trying to get forward in support. When Gervinho was booked for an abject dive five minutes later it was time to act.
As there had been in Montpellier in the opening group game, there seemed to be some hesitancy from Bould to act decisively and make a change.
Perhaps he was more worried about the other end of the pitch, where Farfan was continuing to torment Santos and broke clear again on 73 minutes only for Mannone to smother his cross.
That finally prompted Bould into a change, Gervinho making way for Olivier Giroud but if it was supposed to propel Arsenal to victory, it immediately had the opposite effect.
Schalke scored out of nowhere. A ball looped into the air off Coquelin, Roman Neudstater headed it hopefully forward and suddenly Huntelaar was clear and onside and this time the Dutchman made no mistake with a powerful low finish underneath the advancing Mannone.
That silenced the home crowd, and there was a mass exodus five minutes later when Farfan crossed from the right flank and Afellay arrived at the far post to bury a shot past Mannone.
Arsenal had no response. Wenger and the Arsenal directors had better get to work on theirs for the AGM because they will face a hostile audience.
Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson (Gnabry, 83), Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Arteta, Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski (Arshavin, 83), Gervinho (Giroud, 75).
Subs not used: Shea, Djourou, Koscielny, Chamakh.
Schalke: Unnerstall, Uchida, Howedes, Matip, Fuchs, Neustadter, Hoger (Jones, h-t), Afellay, Holtby (Barnetta, 65), Farfan, Huntelaar.
Subs not used: Hildebrand, Marica, Moritz, Draxler, Kolasinac.
Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden)