Arsenal fans' fury after 'jaded' display against Schalke
Arsenal 0 Schalke 2: Whatever it was Peter Hill-Wood was saying to Stan Kroenke in the Arsenal directors' box at the end of the game last night, you can only assume he explained that these kind of defeats are not commonplace – even for a side as erratic as the one that plays at the Emirates.
Not since September 2003 have Arsenal lost at home in the Champions League to foreign opposition, back when home was Highbury and the team itself was on the way to the club's most recent Premier League title the following May. Last night was also the first time they have lost a group game at the Emirates in the Champions League.
But what might provoke the embarrassed shuffling of feet and worried glances ahead of today's AGM is the statistic that said Arsenal had only one shot on target in the entire game and that came from 17-year-old substitute Serge Gnabry in time added on at the end of the match. If defeat away to Norwich City away was embarrassing, this one had the home support volubly voicing their displeasure.
Steve Bould, standing in for the last game of Arsène Wenger's touchline ban, offered the verdict that the players were "jaded" and had been that way since they returned from the international break. Certainly, three defeats in their last five games in all competitions is the kind of form that is developing from a blip into something more serious.
They were bossed for most of the game by Schalke, the Bundesliga's third-placed club last season and an expansive, energetic side in the mould of Arsenal in the good old days. From Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's confident finish for the first goal to the running of Jefferson Farfan and Lewis Holtby this was a brave performance from the visitors.
The Schalke coach, Huub Stevens, said his team had not performed in the first half, although that seemed like an unnecessarily harsh verdict on a side that looked well in control. It was telling that Bould admitted that as the game progressed his side would have been "delighted" with a 0-0 draw.
They would not have deserved a point from the game. Nevertheless, the other result in Group B last night meant that this defeat was not as catastrophic as it might have been. Olympiakos' surprise win at Montpellier meant that the French side did not make any ground on Arsenal who will now hope to avoid defeat in Germany on 6 November and win their two remaining fixtures.
Even so, it was a demoralising night and by the time Arsenal went two down to Ibrahim Afellay's goal with four minutes left, the place was emptying. Gervinho had endured one of his worst evenings in an Arsenal shirt and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Podolski had been huge disappointments. Bould said there is a good chance Jack Wilshere will finally make his first-team comeback against Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday, and that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could also return, although neither are certainties. Theo Walcott's fitness ahead of the weekend is even less certain.
Schalke pressed Arsenal very high up the pitch, no-one more so than Holtby, the Germany international with the English father, Chris. In midfield, Roman Neustädter worked just in front of the back four and completed more passes, 51, than any of his team-mates. Schalke thought they had a penalty on 14 minutes when Vito Mannone lunged at the feet of Afellay but the Dutch winger was booked for diving. Afellay went down a fraction too early for contact although if he had stayed on his feet another stride, the Arsenal goalkeeper would surely have brought him down.
There was a chance for Ramsey at the start of the second half, albeit not much of one. It was indicative of how little Arsenal were creating in front of goal that this moment stood out. Down Arsenal's left-side, Andre Santos was having trouble controlling Farfan and the raiding Japanese right-back Atsuto Uchida. On 50 minutes, Farfan left Santos in his slipstream to cut the ball back to Benedikt Höwedes who cleared the bar with his shot. The warning signs were there.
Before Arsenal did concede, Gervinho was rightly booked for a dive after a non-contact challenge from Jermaine Jones in the Schalke area. Moments earlier, the Arsenal man had clumsily taken the sting out of a promising counter-attack and when finally he was replaced by Olivier Giroud there was a roar of relief.
Soon after, Schalke scored. Uchida's cross from the right was deflected into the air and Schalke won two successive headers, directing the ball to the feet of Huntelaar who finished in the kind of fashion that Arsenal wish Giroud and Gervinho would score goals.
Afellay killed the game with a second from Farfan's cross with five minutes to go and Arsenal were left facing the wrath of their supporters at the final whistle. They have seen defeats like this too often for their liking, but never this early in the competition.
Booked: Arsenal Vermaelen, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho. Schalke Afallay, Hoger.
Man of the match Farfan.
Possession: Arsenal 51% Schalke 49%.
Attempts on target: Arsenal 3 Schalke 4.
Referee J Eriksson (Swe).