Arsenal surrender two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Schalke
'We're getting better' says Arsene Wenger but will 'better' be enough to get Gunners through Group B?
Schalke 2 Arsenal 2. It's a measure of how far Arsenal have fallen that manager Arsene Wenger now declares himself satisfied with seeing his side squander a two-goal disadvantage.
A draw in Germany wasn't a bad result for the Gunners in their Group B Champions League clash but there was a time when Wenger would have found it totally unacceptable for one of his teams to surrender a two-goal cushion.
But this Arsenal vintage is far inferior to previous ones and Wenger has had to lower his expectations as a result. Asked afterwards what he thought of the team's performance, the Frenchman replied: “I felt overall we played reasonably well… I felt we showed a good response to Saturday's game [a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United] and the team is getting better."
Getting better is one thing, getting three points another, and Arsenal's failure to hold on to their early advantage means the group is tantalisingly poised going into the last two games. Schalke remain top with eight points while Arsenal are just a point behind in second. Olympiakos, who beat Montpellier last night, are third on six points.
Though Arsenal should win their next game' against winless Montpellier at the Emirates in a fortnight's time, the Gunners then have to go to Greece to face Olympiakos. When they embarked on a similar mission to the Greek capital a year ago they were hammered 3-1.
"It's an open group, I believe we are in a good position where you want to win your home game," said Wenger. "Schalke have to win their game against Olympiakos as well, so it will probably come down to the last game."
If it does come down to the last game then Arsenal will need to show better composure than they did last night. Their opening goal on 18 minutes had a touch of good fortune about it, the bounce of the ball going Theo Walcott's (above) way after Olivier Giroud had made a hash of the initial chance.
Fortunately the Frenchman kept his cool eight minutes later when he took advantage of the sloppy Schalke defence to head home Lukas Podolski's cross. But Giroud missed a couple of good chances either side of half-time, one a header and the other an open goal from the edge of the six-yard box.
In the meantime Schalke had begun their fightback with a clinical strike from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the stroke of half-time. The impressive Jefferson Farfan then exploited Arsenal's disorganisation in defence to grab the equaliser for the Germans on 67 minutes.
Arsenal could have snatched three points at the death when Walcott found himself in a one-on-one with Schalke keeper Lars Unnerstall only to see his tame shot blocked.
It was the sort of opportunity that Thierry Henry or Robin van Persie would have buried in their sleep, and Walcott's failure to do so made a mockery of his subsequent comments to reporters.
"Hopefully now I can get a run in the team because I feel I fully deserve it," said Walcott, who has been used as a substitute for most of this season. "It was a good point but it would have been a fantastic victory. I did all I could with the late chance. The ball got stuck to my feet and I just couldn't get it out."
If Arsenal's hesitancy in front of goal continues then they will have similar problems getting out of Group B.