For the first ten minutes it looked as if it was going to be another one of those days. The ones we’re all too familiar with. But shortly after fifteen minutes, we arrived in the match and started to take control of a game where we’d spent the most part thus far in our own half. Schalke for the early stages dominated possession, and piled their players forward, with us rarely on the attack; and when we did, it seemed just to reveal our defensive frailties to their counter-attack.
But in the 18th minute, Mertesacker hoofed one forward and a mix up at the back with a poorly judged header saw Giroud through on goal, one-on-one. Unfortunately, as you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear whether you’ve seen it or not, he came under pressure from a Schalke CB, and not only scuffed his shot, but completely missed the ball, kicking the ground. This was made less embarrassing by the fact he was falling to the ground with the Schalke player alongside him, and not to forget that Theo Walcott, in just his fourth start of the season, second not including the League Cup – (the first coming on the first day of the season), was on hand to follow up, with a potentially lucky fall of the ball, slotted it home after it bounced over the keeper. 1-0 and Arsenal were on their way.
Arsenal then took control of the game and started to regain possession. Just what we like to see. The 26th minute came, and after one of the nicest moves of the game, although nothing spectacular by what we were used to, it was sprung about across the offensive players, before coming to Podolski, who with a neat duck of the shoulder, turned and put in a cross which Giroud, I admit, anticipated with a Striker’s instinct, and a neat header to put us 2-0 up. It was a kind of movement that you wouldn’t see Gervinho make, or even Podolski, and potentially not even Walcott with his head at least. Having said this later on Giroud was unmarked from another Podolsko cross, in the second half, and should have headed it as he is miles better with his head than feet. Unfortunately he tried to volley it, and well to say he misjudged it would be an understatement. Walcott has to remain my preferred choice upfront.
This is the point where you would be thinking, we’ve got this game now, got the three points surely? But then and again if you’d be watching any of the Arsenal matches recently you would have to be naive to have such thoughts. It was a shame because the defensive performance was a much improved one, but unfortunately much improved still wasn’t good enough and a lack of concentration at the back notably Mertesacker – uncharacteristically this season, and Sagna perhaps were poorly positioned. Huntelaar – a player I would have been damn well happy to see at Arsenal, scored from these mistakes in what was undeniably a good string of passes. Arsenal-like in fact. He finished it well, but shouldn’t have had the opportunity. 2-1 up going into half time, and momentum in their favour.
We went out in the second half and looked anxious, and lacked confidence. That dominance and control that we briefly obtained from going 2-0 to the good appeared to have evaporated, leaving behind a team similar to the one that didn’t perform at United. Schalke’s persistance eventually payed off and further defensive mistakes lead to their equaliser. Sagna’s lack of urgency to close down the cross, and then once again from the other side, and Vermaelen eventually giving it the final nudge in the net.
From here on in, it felt as though both teams were reasonably happy with a point, both knowing that qualification was still highly probably with a draw rather than risking conceding and becoming more susceptible to being overtaken by Olympiacos in the group.
Having said this in the dying moments, Walcott had a great opportunity to make it 3-2 but his hesitancy and desire to use his right foot when his left would have been more appropriate was the difference. After the game he said
there was nothing more I could do, it got stuck under my feet
Why did it get stuck under his feet? Because he tried to use his right foot instead of his left. Perfect opportunity to stake his claim long term for the role of striker. Thierry would have put that away I’m afraid to say Theo. But 8 goals this season – top scorer by 3 – mostly from the bench, isn’t too bad.
We host Montpellier next time out, and a win would see us either guarantee qualification, or put us into the lead of the group yet still in need of a win(for 1st)/draw (for 2nd) at Olympiacos to confirm qualification, dependent on the Schalke v Olympiacos match. For now we remain 2nd with 7pts, one below Schalke, and one above Olympiacos. Montpellier have 1pt and can’t qualify no matter what.