Arsenal 0-2 Schalke: Thank God We Finished Third

After so many seasons of consecutive qualification for the Champions League, it’s possible that Arsenal supporters have begun to take the competition for granted. After last night’s performance, I think there are many supporters who would prefer that we weren’t in the competition at all.

The match itself requires little examination. We played similarly to the way we played at Norwich, only against a better side. So naturally, the scoreline was doubly embarrassing. That we conceded two goals to Schalke wasn’t entirely remarkable, but the fact that we needed 94 minutes to muster our first shot on target was appalling. 

Right now we look like we could play for days and never score. We’ve settled into an all-too-familiar pattern of maintaining possession without creating a real threat. The ball moves laterally and back towards our own goal, but inventive passes in the final third are in short supply. In the Champions League we own the dubious distinction of having had the second fewest shots in the entire competition. (Stats via @orbinho at opta)

At some point, the failure to create chances and find the back of the net comes down to the obvious lack of quality in the side. There were opportunities against Schalke. But when those opportunities fall to the likes of Gervinho and Ramsey, as they mostly seemed to on this evening, the outcome is more commonly going to be frustration than elation. Gervinho tried his usual tactic of attempting to dribble himself through the opposition and failed every time. He had zero successful dribbles in the match. (Which he can add to his impressive achievement of having found a teammate with none of his crosses in any competition this season. Again thanks to @orbinho at opta).

Last season Robin van Persie’s individual brilliance often concealed the fact that we weren’t a very dynamic attacking side. On a night like tonight, he might have turned up with a few goals from nothing, or used his superior movement and touch to finish chances that Gervinho squandered. But without anyone of his caliber in attack, there’s nothing to hide our clear lack of potency. We are a team without a top striker, and that’s rarely a recipe for success. The fact that we have had to rely on Gervinho as our center forward in multiple games this season is both illuminating and damning. The fact that van Persie’s “replacement” most commonly finds himself on the bench is even worse.

Thankfully we have more to worry about than just our impotent attack. Defensively we looked every bit the team that conceded 49 league goals last season. Vermaelen may be wearing the captain’s armband these days but he is hardly leading by example. While he made several key interceptions last night, he continues to show a complete lack of discipline in his tackling and a willingness to charge up the pitch at inappropriate moments. Thankfully for the captain, there was another defender on the pitch whose poor play will steal all the headlines.

Over the weekend there was a lot of attention paid to the manner in which Arsenal travelled to Carrow Road. Well if his performance gives any indication then Andre Santos must have come to the Emirates in a clown car last night. He was calamitous at both ends of the pitch and spent most of the game gasping for air and hanging his head. Even in the attacking third, where he usually shows some promise, his passing was poor and his dribbling was worse. Santos didn’t look like a player hungry to take back his starting job from Kieran Gibbs. He looked like another player content to collect a fat paycheck while sitting on the bench and tweeting about how much he loves Arsenal. It was obvious that Santos had to be taught a stern lesson, but I had to laugh when the television commentators suggested that he might be removed at halftime because he was such a liability. No matter how correct that decision would’ve been, tough lessons seem infrequently taught at Arsenal these days.

This Arsenal side has now trailed in five consecutive matches. We haven’t had a clean sheet in nine matches and that includes a home cup tie against Coventry City. We’ve been held scoreless in consecutive matches, one of which was against a team that had conceded 17 goals in 7 league games. And, as I already pointed out, this swashbuckling Arsenal side have attempted the second fewest shots of any team in the Champions League.

Some will point to injuries as an excuse, but I also find it ridiculous to moan about injuries when the most notable absentees, Rosicky, Gibbs, Diaby and Wilshere, are players we would be crazy to rely on staying fit. Even Theo’s injury is a poor excuse because he’s a player that has one foot out the door at the moment anyway.

The real culprit is the lack of quality and depth in the side. Ramsey simply shouldn’t be starting for Arsenal right now because, at the moment, he isn’t good enough. The same is true of Manone, Santos and probably even Gervinho. But as with last season, we have no alternative. When unfavored Andrei Arshavin and 17-year-old Serge Gnabry are our hope for rescuing a Champions League game at home, you know we lack the necessary depth. We are forced to play Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta for 90 minutes every match because we have no alternative. When their level dips even a scintilla, as it has lately, we look a shambles.

This week’s Champions League results proved that any team can have an off day and lose. Many Arsenal supporters will use losses by Chelsea and City and even Madrid as evidence that we shouldn’t read too much into our loss. I simply cannot agree with that logic.

In isolation, this was one disappointing match. But in the context of what we’ve seen over the course of the season, I think it is further proof that we are short of the quality needed to challenge for silverware. We are still a team that controls possession without really putting our opposition under pressure, and falls asleep at the back. Even if we get our defensive problems sorted out, and jack comes back at peak form, and Szczesny restores some modicum of respect to the Arsenal goal-keeping situation, we are still a team without a world-class striker. We don’t have a match winner that strikes fear into the heart of the opposition. And that’s a problem without an immediate solution.

They say that scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in football. These days, Arsenal seem intent on proving that theory correct. And with our chances of doing anything exciting in the Champions League looking bleak, a top-4 finish in the Premier League has never looked less gratifying.

Enjoy the AGM…

– ES

[This post was written by guest star and new Champions League correspondent Elliot Smith, better known as YankeeGunner. His blog is here, and you’ll also find him saying the sensible bits on our podcast each month.]

  1. mubraur reblogged this from arse2mouse
  2. paucisverbis said: It was straight up pathetic. We keep playing a slow, lazy game—the exact opposite of how we are known to play. I give some credits to Schalke 04, but we need some tweaking with our squad to get ourselves back on track.
  3. arse2mouse posted this
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