Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke: Match Thoughts And Broader Problems

This was a matchday full of surprises in the Champions League, if we can call the defeats of the so-called big teams at the hands, or is it feet, of their high-quality, but supposedly underdog, opponents that.

With those results in mind, and the undoubtedly quality that Schalke showed, one might be tempted to take Arsenal’s first loss at home to a non-English side in 46 Champions League matches as little more than a minor hiccup. But if we look at the quality of Arsenal’s performance – the only shot on target came in injury time from a 17 year old substitute, add in a similarly dour game against Norwich last weekend, and indeed the entire Premier League campaign thus far, and we can see genuine cause for concern.

After the Norwich game, Arsene Wenger was uncharacteristically forthcoming about the disappointing nature of the performance. In this instance stand-in manager Steve Bould had something similar to say, “A 0-0 would have delighted us I think.” That tells me Arsenal were just not at the races.

There were a couple of other comments from the assistant manager that showed the deeper and more complex nature of the problem.

We haven’t played anything like we can, I think that’s the big disappointment. We haven’t performed today. We lack a bit of confidence, for whatever reason…

We looked jaded, I don’t know why that is.

Arsenal have been unconvincing in attack in majority of the games. The Gunners have won only 3 out of their 8 Premiership games scoring 13 goals. 6 of those came in one outlier against Southampton, so they’ve basically won 2 out of 7 while scoring 7 goals in those games.

In that regard, I commend Bould for saying things as he sees it. Clearly, the coaches are not sure about the exact nature of the problem, which is not a surprise given the complex nature of a fluid attacking game. Blaming the quality of players and asking for new ones is the most obvious lazy approach but those actually in charge do not have the luxury of being so frivolous.

There aren’t many new observations to make about the lack of understanding and consequently the attacking impotence that Arsenal displayed against Schalke. There was some hope that the visitors’ relatively high line will provide more opportunities, and it did lead to some occasions when the Gunners got in behind, but they just didn’t have the ability to find the final ball or the finish.

Again, it wasn’t down to one player or one specific reason. At times, the players got too close to each other and killed the space that they needed, on other occasions the passing was too slow giving the defence time to recover, then there were instances of a player lacking strength at a vital moment in the attack to hold off the defender, and so on. None of these are new issues but finding the answers is proving tough.

To an extent this is understandable as the Gunners have lost last season’s three main weapons (RvP, Song, and Walcott) in the final third for various reasons. Integrating the newcomers is proving to be a challenge that is costing results. The transfer business can be faulted but I believe that debate is out of the scope of this article.

More than the attack though, the serious concerns are with the defence. It seems, after a relatively well-structured and solid start to the season, the defence is relapsing into the kind of mistakes that troubled the squad last season.

Santos obviously had a tough time as the overwhelming majority of Schalke’s attacks came down his flank. At times he was outnumbered but on many occasions his positioning, decision making, and ability to track was suspect at best.

It’s difficult to say whether many of the problems in defence resulted from positional issues borne out of the players attempts to move around in search of penetration in attack, or were down to a basic lack of discipline and awareness at the back. The answer is likely to be a combination of both. For instance, the space down Arsenal’s left side was often resulting from attempts of Podolski and Cazorla to work something in the attacking half, which didn’t leave them in a position to track the attacker once possession was lost. But there is no real excuse for the full-backs to stay deeper than the central defenders, in a virtual carbon copy of the mistake that was made against Norwich, to take an example of awareness and discipline issues.

The net result was that Schalke were able to counter-attack almost at will and the Gunners were somewhat lucky to concede only two. It’s also worth noting that the Germans got into numerous ‘promising positions’ in the build-up of their attacks but didn’t really click in the final third. It once again clearly illustrates the fact that finding the final ball or the finish is the hardest part of the game and even quality players like Huntelaar and Afellay can’t score with ease despite the acres of space afforded to them. By extension, it’s harder for the Gunners when the opponents are well-organized in defence and deny them space and time on the ball.

The central observation from the game was that it was relatively easy for Schalke to defend and attack whereas the Gunners struggled at both ends of the pitch. The visitors were tactically astute and defended in a composed manner that gave them the opportunity to build attacks almost every time they won the ball back. Arsenal, on the other hand, were struggling to contain the Germans and had to hoof the ball away or needed a desperate lunge on a regular basis. This also meant that they were rarely in a position/shape to break forward at speed. In short, Schalke won the tactical battle and mastered the spaces on the pitch to their advantage.

There’s another theory – Arsenal players take it easy, especially when they don’t rate the opponents highly – that I don’t buy at all. It’s unimaginable that all the players will switch on and off so many times during the season and on a yearly basis. To me the problem is in the tactical system, and that affects the output that the side can generate even when the players are visibly trying very hard. At the moment the Arsenal team is performing below the sum of its individual parts. Ideally they should be doing better than the sum or, at the very least, equal the total of their abilities.

This game has once again highlighted the issues that Arsene and his coaches have to solve, and they don’t have too much time on their hands. The title race might well be over even if many fans don’t wish to accept it. The race for the Champions League spots could also slip away unless the right solutions are found and implemented soon.

The efforts of certain players, the timing of the substitutions, and some other specifics of the game will probably receive their share of flak, but I feel it’s best to ignore those and focus on the broader issues so the individual performances section has been left out.

31 Responses to Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke: Match Thoughts And Broader Problems

  1. edu says:

    What’s Arsenal win percentage with Aaron Ramsey playing & without him playing in the last 1 year?

    • santori says:

      I’m struggling to figure out where Ramsey is best suited (besides the bench)

      He cannot play RW. It effectively nullifies our width there.

      He cannot play the support role next to Arteta. Whilst good going forward, he has horrible recovery rate when the ball is turned over.

      He cannot play LW.

      He is probably best in the playmaker role but he will be behind Santi, Rosicky, Jack.

      Can he play LB? There’s an opening there.:P

      • JJ Pittman says:

        Last week here in US, an Arsenal
        “classic” (!?) from ’09 was shown vs. West Ham in which we spotted them one and the front 3 of Eduardo, Vela & Ramsey came back to score 2 late to win! Maybe he can be our next false #9?! Only partly kidding

  2. BD says:

    In the last 7-8 years, Arsenal have often lacked penetration. A lot of possession but no clear cut chances to score… It is not something new that we see. RVP leaving was obviously a huge blow. I follow the Bundesliga and the German national team and Podolski( along with Schmelzer) are the only players I dont like in the national team. Poldi is a good counter attacking player but when teams park the bus(they always do vs Arsenal), he is pretty useless. I dont think he is good enough for Arsenal – well as a squad player yes but not as a starter. I dont expect much from him. We all know about Gervinho. I gave up on him a long time ago. The only surprise for me has been Giroud. I thought he was the real deal. I dont understand why Wenger does not start with him. I haven’t given up on him. Our hopes for the attack are Wilshere, Cazorla, Gnabry, the Ox and Giroud. Walcott can leave. He doesnt wanna stay anyway. I think if we can buy Moussa Sissoko from Toulouse we would really improve since Diaby is always injured and Song is gone. Sissoko is cheap (because he doesnt want to renew his contract), can improve the midfield and wants to leave his team and join a club like Arsenal.

    • santori says:

      Walcott we should have sold in the summer. Why we have dallied with him affecting his price and kept him on the periphery is anyone’s guess.

      Song we should have kept. He wanted his salary raised from 55K to 80K (close to what walcott is getting) I say give it to him and keep him for a season so our younger players (Coquelin) have some space to come throughand we are not fully dependant ont he 30yr old Arteta to play all games.

      Had we sold Walcott in the summer, Affelay was available on loan!

      As is, I think we could do with someone like KOnoplyanka who can play across midfield and cover for Santo.

      I also think Santi will benefit from one more technical craftsman out wide like KOnoplyanka.

      Sadly (and likely) Wenger will lfinally sell Walcott (for less) in Jan and then insist that Gnabry and (Ryo) are his replacements.

      As talented as I rate Gnabry, he is still a young lad learding his craft and will not have the level of consistency which we will need to effectively challene for proper honours.

      If Wenger forgos bringing in another wideman, that’s fine only if he can make better use of Arshavin.

      Grantded the Russian has flattered to decieve in recent seasons, but he is showing some appetite and fitnes following this summer.

      I say let’s try and get what value we can from him in a system that could suit both him and Santi (at very least as an alternate Plan B), and till we find a replacement at exceptional pricing.

  3. RockyLives says:

    Sobering piece Desi.

    It’s difficult to fathom how we can go from such a decent performance at Man City to the last two outings.

    I’m sure AW will come up with a tactical response. But I wonder whether the personnel are quite up to it. For me the jury’s out.

    People are very cross with Gervinho, but his goals and assists this season have been good. Of course now that parts of the Ems crowd have started booing him and cheering when he’s substituted, we can expect his morale to plummet and his performances to worsen. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

    Giroud has shown decent flashes – it’s odd that AW doesn’t seem to want to start him regularly.

    And Podolski is very in-and-out, although clearly a good finisher on the rare occasions he gets in a position to have a shot.

    Whatever the response is, we need it soon.

  4. Aussie Jack says:

    It`s a bit like creeping paralysis and you notice this in players like Arteta, Podolski, Vermaelen, Koscieny and now to a certain extent in Cazola. We do not have a top notch eleven , we need to replace at least five and that`s not possible right now so, rather than go on weeping and wailing about trophies, let`s use what we have in the young brigade and enjoy our football.

    • santori says:


      We have some deficiencies. It only takes one or two players not performing at required level to upset the delicate balance.

      Against Schalke, Santos and Ramsey were poor.

      • Aussie Jack says:

        Leave Santos and Ramsey in the stands. Play Vermaelen LB and bring in Kosceieny to partner Mertesacker. Jenkinson is doing a good job. Wilshere, Arteta and Carzola in the mid field.
        Walcott/Ox-C , Giroud and Podolski for the QPR match. That`s just about the best we`ve got.

  5. AJM says:

    Being a gunner for 40 years, I have seen some good moments and many bad moments but nothing compares to the last 8 years. Lots of respect for Arsene Wenger but he has lost the plot. I am sorry to say but it is time he leaves Arsenal and another manager is given the chance to make Arsenal great again.

    • santori says:

      I don’t think so.

      But he has deficiencies with his coaching/tactics. Sometimes, he can be brilliant, at other times predictable. He needs to recognise this and see our the staff around him can support him better.

  6. jjsam says:

    AW atimes do compound our woes. He brought Giroud in and said he was the new man which we all warmly welcomed. Why has he suddenly disbelieved him (Giroud) again when he just started getting the flow and fluid of our game? Why would he field a winger as the point man at the expense of our ONLY natural striker? Why do AW prefers Ramson on the flank? Why couldn’t he try 4-4-2 when a man up isnt yielding? And lots ‘why’. Its time AW refreshes himself tactically and inteligently (reasoning and understanding) for his achievements not to be thwarted.

    • santori says:


      This sould be given a try. No need to reinvent the formation simply to support one player.

      He could also start Santi in the middle with Gnabry (or Chambo when fit) out RW and Gervinho up top or bring Gervinho in for Poldy when the German reaches 70 minutes.

  7. Dozie says:

    We can all slate Gervinho all we want, but I can remember him getting to the bye line once or twice without a single team mate in the opponents box. The whole team now seems to play at pedestrian pace thereby letting the opponents get their ten men behind the ball each time. O ff the ball movement from the attacking players is hardly existent, so Arteta, Verm et al, always pass backwards instead of forwards to initiate a counter attack. Our lads need to inject some pace into their passing game so as to get opponent defences running back towards their goal.

    • santori says:

      Yeah Gervinho was frustrating but critically, I don’t think he had the proper support to fully exploit his game.

      When left on his own and isolated, he does what he does which is attempt to take on opponents.

      A faster asset out RW would have supported his game better (Gnabry). I’m not saying the young man in the panaceae to our ills but he certainly brings attacking threat and something different to the lack of invention out right that was Ramsey.

      That said, Gervinho’s final ball was poor.

      • wawa says:

        100% correct on Gervinho. I remember one of my colleagues made the same comments twice or thrice. There was no one to support him. I was really devastated. It pains to see Arsenal losing. please guys make us proud tmrw against QPR. Put smiles on our face once again.

  8. Spec says:

    Gnabry’s shot towards the end of the game summed up the night. 1 shot on target from a 17yr old substitute in 90mins. Talk all we can if this does not turn its fortunes around, training ground work translating to on pitch performances where the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, then we could be in for a long long season.

    • santori says:

      Why he wasn’t started was beyond me. We needed threat from RW particularly with LW muted by the hapless Santos.

      And we needed the pace to support Gervinho Why play the Ivorian otherwise?

  9. Spec says:

    Gnabry’s shot towards the end of the game summed up the night. 1 shot on target from a 17yr old substitute in 90mins. Talk all we can if this team does not turn its fortunes around, training ground work translating to on pitch performances where the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, then we could be in for a long long season.

    • santori says:

      I agree with desi that it isn’t simply a question of not enough quality.

      There is suffient quality if we get the dynamics right. We are not.

      Yes we are still 3 players short for the long haul but what we have in the team right now should still be able to take on Schalke at home.

  10. santori says:

    Poor Tactical choice.

    Big problem. And with Wenger sitting up top, substitutions were pre-determined. Not good.

    1) Ramsey. Playing him out right is a bad choice. We needed the pace out wide to match Gervinho breaking through the middle. Schalke afforded us reasonable room to ttack and were not shy coming out of their half first half.

    Instead we got Ramsey tucked in and often drifting in field. It effectively negated any threat from us out at RW and we carried Ramsey as a passenger all game.

    2) Santos was a liability. This affected Podolski going forward and conversely shut down LW. No RW or LW threat, it was obvious to Schalke that shutting out Santi would effectively close down our one remaining creative outlet.

    Not suprising then that as the second half wore on, they came into possession for longer periods and stayed in our half more often. Thereby with that sort of attention in your own half, a calamity was always likely. That we substituted in Gnabry for jenkinson was all the more baffling , since it effectively allowed their quick pacy wide men space to xploit as we opened up big gaps for their counter game.

    3) Substitutions. Nothing has changed. Aside from selling off our best assets, we are still in habit of not making timely and effective substitutions. We had to wait 72 minutes before the first sub came in.

    It was quite obvious 5 minutes into second half that we needed a spark to carry forth a threat into their half and prevent stress on our backline (Particularly at LB).

    But we waited.

    And when we subbed, instead of changing things round midfield, we elected to swap strikers. Ramsey was strangely left on the pitch to no effect.

    Arsharvin and Gnabry were brought in with less than 10 minutes to influence a game and as pointed out at expense of a crtiical cog in defense (Jenkinson could have tracked Affelay at very least for the second)

    Overall a bad day at the office really compounded by a self inflicted wound in bad management of assets.

    I would not have started Ramsey RW. I would have started Gnabry with gervinho up top. The ivorian was back to his frustrating self but art of the issue was that without support to keep up with his runs, he tends to go on solo missions which more often than not affords him the opportunity to pick the wrong pass.

    Thereafter if still ineffective< I would have first pushed Santi RW wherehe could support Jenkinson (or vice cersa) in putting crosses into the box (give us a threat from that side) and secondly put Arsharvin at his most effective position in the middle behind the striker.

    Thereafter load on the big man.

    Arteta and Coquelin I thought did a reasonable job and it was good to see the young Frenchman get effective time in the game as I think he is the closest we've got to an Arteta alternative.

    Wenger has got to take a long hard look at his options at the moment. Whilst there are deficiencies in the squad (we are as again 3 players short of the puzzle), there is sufficient quality to carry us through a home fixture with Schalke (Santos granted)

    Leaving your coach in charge with one arm tied behind his back (Bould mentioned all substitutions were pre-determined) is micro management at its worst.

    Tactically, our set up was wrong and too easy for the excellent Schalke to exploit.

    There is nothing mystifying about our slump. We are not getting our tactics right.

  11. jaymesy says:

    Ramsey is a complete mess in any arsenal’s line up 4matn, He’s gud wen he comes in as a substitute. I don’t knw y wenger is even using im 2 play d right attacking wing since he has no accross let alone dribbling or coverin up 4 d right full back

  12. JohnW says:

    That game was missing penetrative players like Diaby, Wilsire and Gibbs. By the way, what role was Ramsey playing?

  13. Jeff says:

    I just couldnt undertand why Wenger kept ramsey as our starter. We had nothing to lose at home against schalke,we should have started arshavin instead! esp with le coq playing.. we should have put a more offensive player on the wing.. ramsey was so ineffective.. he should also forget about the playmaker role once jack n rosicky are back.. how is rosicky doing btw? he should be training by now if wenger said he’s not far away by last month.

  14. Scott (USA) says:

    When Jack, Diaby and Rosicky get back I want to see Ramsey on loan or parked in one of those comfy seats. That would make me happy. Ramsey is maddening!!!…

  15. […] is not helped by the fact that Le Boss seems just as perplexed by Arsenal’s struggles as Bould was when speaking after the loss against […]

  16. Nick from Portugal says:

    Well I was wrong about Schalke who really impressed. They had obviously studied the Norwich game and their tactical acument was helped by our tactical limitations (Ramsay on the wing with his lack of pace-I felt sorry for him). A lot of flak aimed at Gervinho the only one of our attackers who looked like he might score, he is fast and he is frustrating but I wouldn’t like to mark him, Giroud is slow and processional he does very little for us because we don’t know how to play with a traditional centre forward. Other frustration when we do break we do NOT get men in the box.
    The team for today needs to include Arshavin in the hole, I would move Vermalen to LB and play Kos with Mertsaaker in the middle. Jenkinson does not serve to be dropped, he and Arteta have been our best players. Think Cazorla needs a rest but Wilshere is not ready. OC has not been at the races this season. We miss the direct running of Rosisky from midfield (remember his Chelski goal at the Bridge last season). Gnabry at 17 is not a solution this season. Sellin Walcott is MADNESS he canscore goals and does in big matches. Wenger is beginning to annoy even me, one of his biggest fans, if a certain gentleman from Barcelona who has expressed a preference for coaching in London comes knocking it will be time to move Wenger upstairs.

  17. Bar clamps says:

    I’m a big fan and I like to catch all the games. Your blog provides some really useful information.

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