Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Arsenal vs Schalke Preview & scouting report

Arsenal go into tonight's game in 2nd place in their Champions League group, 1 point behind Schalke following the 2-0 defeat to the German side last week. After a poor run of form, it is vital that we manage to put in a valiant performance tonight, and ideally walk away from Gelsenkirchen with some pride, and at least a point.

With two away games left in the group, and only 6 points form the opening 3 fixtures, tonight is starting to turn into a crunch game, and could determine whether Arsenal will get through the group or drop into the Europa League places. And the German side will provide a stern test after starting the season well - they are just behind league leaders Bayern Munich at the top of the table.

The Gunners have travelled to Germany with more injury woes, as Ramsey will be out of the game after picking up an injury at the weekend. Szczesny, who was expected to make a return from injury in tonight's game, is also missing despite joining in training on Monday.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky are all still out, whilst Theo Walcott has picked up al illness and will be assessed prior to kick off. This means a similar line up to the one against United, with Walcott in for Ramsey, if he recovers in time to start. Yesterday Wenger revealed that the recently red carded midfielder, Jack Wilsere will start tonight, as his injury comeback looks to on a good course. Wenger said "I think I will play him tomorrow. Then we have a block of three games and maybe the fact that he gets a period of recovering will be just right for him. He gets better in every game."

The main question marks surround the side are at left back, with Andre Santos being castigated for his poor form, and the now infamous shirt swap with Van Persie at half time on Saturday. It is believed the Brazilian incurred the full wrath of Wenger's anger, and the Frenchman may have lost patience with the stocky Santos, despite his apology to the Gunners fans. If Santos is not going to play, Vermaelen could play at left back, with Koscielny slotting in in the heart of defence. Another alternative would be to play Jenkinson and Sagna at full back, as both players have experience on either side of the defence.

Arsenal have struggled for form recently, and Arsene is aiming for his side to put thing right tonight. The 63 year old said: "At the moment they have forgotten how good they are, What is most important is that we play again with our enthusiasm, desire to create chances and enjoy our game, more than about 'do we concede a goal or not'. Obviously it is disappointing for us when we don't have a lot of chances. Lately maybe we have been a little bit flat."

Poor performances across the side have caused a mini crisis at the club of late, with some fans citing the disappointing defeat at Old Trafford last weekend worse than the performance where we lost 8-2 a year before. The attacking intent was minimal, almost non existent, and we failed to get a shot on target before the 93rd minute, which is not acceptable for a club at the highest level. Arsenal have struggled to form a cohesive attacking unit over the last month, going on a run of 1.5 games without a shot on goal against Norwich and Schalke.

Key players like Podolski and the big new signing Giroud need to put in better, more consistent performances. And the midfield duo of Arteta and Cazorla need more support to be able to dominate games. The return form injury of Wilshere will help, but we cannot expect him to reach the highest level until a few months probably.

Unlike Arsenal, Schalke have enjoyed a marvelous start to the season, and have an excellent chance of progressing into the next stage of the Champions League. They dominated Arsenal in the last game, and are bringing that confidence they earned from the result to this fixture. Afellay, a former Arsenal target, said: "Our victory in London was a serious warning to Arsenal. Now they know that Schalke are capable of big performances and we will not be as much of a surprise to them. The fact that we won at the Emirates means we are capable of repeating that result at home. We do not fear Arsenal in any way. We are a side with goals in us and that will be key to this match." 

The Dutch midfielder did praise the Arsenal side, but his confidence highlights that tonight will not be an easy fixture. His manager, Huub Stevens, retained his focus on the game tonight, saying: "The only thing that counts is the task ahead of us. And it isn't easy. Arsenal are a good side with lots of quality. I've watched their recent games very attentively,". He remained tight- lipped over his team selection, but reiterated that "We've prepared well," in regards to how they will approach the game.

Schalke are extremely dangerous up front with Huntelaar - one of the most accomplished finishers in world football - being their figurehead in attack. The Dutch striker has 67 goals in 94 games since joining Schalke in 2010, and has 3 goals in 3 games in the Champions league this season, so is definitely the man to watch.

Out wide, the Peruvian Jefferson Fafran ran riot against Santos last time around, and is consistent, direct winger with pace to burn. He is one of the main supply lines to the Huntelaar, and will need to be addressed by Arsenal this time around. On the other side is the Dutch international, and former Barcelona player, Ibrahim Afellay who is very skillful and has a lot of experience at the highest level. Just behind this attacking triplet, is the Anglo-German Lewis Holtby who dictates the play and forges a tempo for the side. The German international is a very talented player and is a reported Arsenal transfer target, with his contract set to expire this summer.

It is fair to say that defence is not Schalke's strong point, but in Matip, they have a solid strong defender, whilst at left back Fuchs has excellent delivery going forward. Arsenal will have t attack the Schalke defence much more than they did at the Emirates and try and find cracks. Schakle may be without their bright young central defender Kyrgiakos Papadopoulos, who suffered a cut above his eyebrow last weekend. They are also without former Germany central defender Metzelder, who has groin strain.

Schalke go into tonight's game following their second defeat of the season at the weekend, going down 3-2 away at Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim managed to get their winner in the 93rd minute, and the three goals conceded by Schalke shows how their defence can be attacked. Yet the Royal Blues did control the match, and were unlucky to lose the game.

Tonight will be a very tough game and Arsenal will have to put in a much better perforamnce that at the weekend to come out of the game with anything. English clubs have have a great record against Schalke away, but this is a completely different side, and as Huub Stevens said in his pre-match press conference, "Before the game it's not about figures or statistics"

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