Arsenal secured an important draw away at the Veltins Arena this evening but could easily have had three points had they not surrendered a two-goal lead to an impressive Schalke.
Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud gave the visitors the upper hand before the half hour mark only for Klaas Jan Huntelaar to cut the deficit with the last kick of the first half. The Gunners were on the back foot for much of the second period and it came as little surprise that the Germans equalised when Jefferson Farfan’s shot cannoned in off Thomas Vermaelen.
Although Arsene Wenger pushed his Belgian captain to the left-back position in place of Andre Santos, Schalke began where they left off at the Emirates attacking with guile down the flanks.
Uchida was a whippet-like threat on the right, until injury saw him subbed midway through the first half, while Farfan and Afellay also enjoyed bombing forward at every opportunity. One stinging effort from the latter forced a smart save from Mannone as we gradually awoke from our Old Trafford hangover.
It wasn’t until the 15th minute that Arsenal finally put together a few passes and we even earned a corner, although naturally nothing came of it, or the one after. Then out of the blue we scored.
A long clearance by Mertesacker was headed backwards by Neustadter who completely flummoxed his defence’s offside trap allowing Olivier Giroud to run through on goal. The Frenchman bounded into the area and looked certain to score before kicking the turf instead of the pig’s bladder. Luckily, as the ball bounced off the keeper Theo Walcott nipped in to tap home. 1-0.
We doubled our lead eight minutes later with our second effort on target. Nice interplay between Cazorla and Wilshere worked us into the box before a Giroud challenge pushed the ball wide to Podolski. Our number 9, despite a slip, then whipped in a delicious cross to the six-yard box where our fantastically handsome fox in the box headed home with Gallic style. Lovely stuff.
The Germans came back into things before half time. First Farfan flashed a warning shot over the bar after space opened up thanks to a slip from Vermaelen, before another slip, this time from Cazorla, gave the ball away on the edge of our box. Mertesacker was caught way out of position by a quick flick and Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored with a fine finish across Mannone with the last kick of the half. It was a sickening time to concede. 2-1 at the break.
There was a worry at the start of the second half when Jack Wilshere was left in a crumpled heap by Lewis Holtby and a chance when Giroud volleyed over as part of the same phase of play. After that bright spark, it was backs to the walls stuff.
Huntelaar sprang the offside trap again to get himself one-on-one with Mannone, only for the Italian to spread himself wide and make a fine stop. Mertesacker appeared to block another shot a few moments later with his hand, although he didn’t seem to know much about it. The pressure kept building as Hoger had a shot blocked on the line by Arteta, then Neustadter headed wide from another corner.
When we did get a chance in the final third, we weren’t helped by the referee who prematurely ended an attack just because a Schalke player was injured. A disgusted Podolski was subsequently booked for dissent after lashing the ball at the advertising hoardings in protest.
The pressure was turned on again like a tap. Holtby and Afellay both lashed goalwards from the edge of the box before Schalke finally got the equaliser they’d been threatening. A deep cross from the left was headed downwards by Holtby and lashed across goal by Farfan before Vermaelen turned it into his own net. 2-2.
Our defensive misery was nearly compounded two minutes later when Mertesacker fell on his arse allowing Holtby all the time in the world to find Huntelaar. On this occasion his ball was wayward.
Like a boxer left dazed by an uppercut to the chin, we took time to recover. Walcott hit the post after a surge by Koscielny, only for the flag to be raised, before the tempo dropped. Unusually, Arsene Wenger opted not to make his usual substitutions around the 70 minute mark and instead waited to the 89th before introducing Andre Santos and Francis Coquelin for Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski.
Right at the death Theo Walcott could have snatched the win but despite bundling through the middle of the Schalke defence he couldn’t find a finish. It was the last action of four minutes of injury-time at the end of a frustrating night which promised much and delivered a lot less.
Olympiakos beat Montpellier in the other game leaving Arsenal second on seven points one point behind Schalke and one ahead of the Greeks. It’s a very tight group but with two games to go things are still in out hands.