Schalke '04 2-2 Arsenal: Important But Annoying Point

The grand scheme of things will show that this draw puts us one win against a dreadful Montpellier side away from clinching passage to the knockout stages of the Champions League. That should not be forgotten. But, there are enough mitigating factors here that point to an underlying continuation of the same old problems that have haunted us for weeks.

Team selection was a bit of a question heading in, but as expected Andre Santos was not part of the XI. Thomas Vermaelen - who has had problems of his own lately - was shifted out to the left with Laurent Koscielny coming in to the center. Given our injuries, the rest of the team picked itself.

Unsurprisingly, the home side started off strongly, urged on by their ever-brilliant supporters. I have to be honest with you, it did make me wonder what would happen if we could ever get the Emirates to sound like that. The first ten minutes belonged completely to Die Königsblauen, who had their first chance when Lukas Podolski needlessly gave away possession for the first of 9,382 times. Ibrahim Affelay stormed down the wing and tried to catch out Vito Mannone at his near post. But, the Italian has looked a completely different player over the last few weeks, and got down well with a strong hand to keep it out.

Schalke kept it up, with Benedikt Höwedes narrowly missing from a corner and the hilariously-awful Atsuto Uchida squandering a solid chance when he let the ball bobble past the end line after skinning Vermaelen easily.

It was a bit nervy at times, but the Arsenal defense just about dealt with it. That kept it 0-0 long enough for the home side to give us the same kind of gift that we've been giving others too often this season. A long ball from Per Mertesacker was headed backwards by Roman Neustadter to no one in particular. Olivier Giroud pounced on it and moved in on Lars Unnerstall's net. The keeper did well to deny the Frenchman, but Theo Walcott was there to pounce on the loose ball and turn it in.

The German defensive follies continued eight minutes later, as a risible miscommunication allowed the visitors to double their lead. Podolski got the ball out on the flank after good work by Giroud. The cross came in, and somehow Giroud had the entire penalty area to work with to direct his header past Unnerstall. Replays showed Höwedes calling for a midfielder to track that run, though really the center-forward should have been his responsibility. That midfielder didn't do so, and all of a sudden Arsenal had a 2-0 lead.

That really should have been it. Schalke were reeling, and all it would have taken was getting to halftime and this probably would have been done and dusted.

No, of course not. Of course we couldn't.

Santi Cazorla, as transcendentally brilliant as he is, fell over and conceded possession to the Royal Blues. I didn't see who played in the first pass, but Lewis Holtby did remarkably well to play the ball at shoulder-height back across the grain. I don't blame our defense up until that point. But, how Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was so open I have no idea. The Dutch hitman was left with the easiest of finishes past the stranded Mannone, giving the home side a sliver of belief heading into the halftime break.

It's so frustrating - if arguably our single best player stays on his feet, we go into halftime ahead by two clear goals and with all the momentum.

That said, a few minutes after the break we could have regained the two-goal advantage.Cazorla played a wonderful pass to Podolski, who in turn sent a nice cross into the area. Giroud had the time and space to thump in a header, but he bizarrely tried to volley it in from about neck height. That went about as well as you'd expect.

A few minutes later, Don Vito saved our skins when the linesman bottled it badly. Huntelaar was miles offside, but the flag stayed down. Mannone stayed up though, standing tall and refusing to commit too early. Again, even a few weeks ago, the kid dives too early and Huntelaar scores easily. We have to take the positives where we can get them right now, and Vito is absolutely one of them. In fact, around the hour mark he also had to push out another chance from Holtby.

You will note that I have not mentioned much about Arsenal's offensive play in the second half. That would be because it didn't exist. The momentum from the late goal in the first half was a killer, as I mentioned. Thus, it wasn't a surprise when Schalke's second goal game. I also posit that it wasn't much of a surprise that it was an awful defensive organization problem that caused it.

TV5 is going to get slaughtered tomorrow by people who don't understand the game, but despite an indifferent performance on the night overall, the second goal was not his fault. Bacary Sagna got badly beaten down the right flank, allowing the cross to come in. Mertesacker should have come out to help him, but instead dropped into the center to cover no one. Koscielny was occupied with Huntelaar, and Vermaelen correctly cut in to check the run of the onrushing Holtby. That left Farfan all alone on the wing, and at that point he was Podolski's responsibility. Where was he? Oh, just 10 yards outside the center of the penalty area, jogging back like nothing was wrong.

Between that and the fact that the commentators said "Podolski gives it away" about 14,287 times, this was not the German's best effort for us.

Once the second goal went in, Schalke seemed to stop pressing. A point was brilliant for them of course, while Arsenal were completely impotent at this point. For the umpteenth time, the side's self-belief completely evaporated and the remaining 25 minutes or so played out as serenely as they did only by the graciousness of our hosts.

And what struck me here more than anything else was that, with a highly winnable game ebbing away before his eyes, the manager did not make a single substitution until 88 minutes had passed. I mean, in the time I've been doing these match reports here, I've made a concerted effort to not resort to all-caps and tons of EFF and CEE words to express my anger. But, on this point, my patience is worn down to the nub. I mean, Andrei Arshavin has completely changed the game the last two times he's come on, and he couldn't get 15 minutes here? And the manager's big idea is to bring on Santos to shut things down?

(Insert tons of EFF and CEE words here.)

Anyway, as you can imagine, we held on. And as I mentioned in the open, this was a huge point and we should now safely progress to the next stage of the Champions League.

So why don't I feel all that great about it?

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 8, Vermaelen 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Sagna 6, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7, Podolski 6 (Santos N/A), Cazorla 6 (Coquelin N/A), Walcott 7, Giroud 7

Man of the Match:  Vito Mannone, once again, I don't know if this is a blip or a genuine improvement, but he has been fantastic these last two weeks.