Arsenal's 2-0 disaster raises grim questions on AGM day
Arsene Wenger can faces hostile reception from shareholders after another limp performance
Arsenal 0 Schalke 2. There may have been a deathly hush around the Emirates as Ibrahim Afellay applied the finishing touches to Schalke's comprehensive win last night, but today the Arsenal fans will be making a great deal more noise when they return for the club's Annual General meeting.
All is not well at Arsenal and the manager Arsene Wenger can expect to face a hostile reception when he confronts the club's angry shareholders. How can a club, they will ask, of Arsenal's standing lose twice in five days? And lose so limply, for that's what the Gunners have done, first against Norwich on Saturday and then last night against supposedly the weakest German side in the Champions League.
Schalke deserved their victory, a win that puts them top of Group B at the halfway stage, one point ahead of their English rivals. Arsenal must now travel to Germany in a fortnight's time and on the evidence of last night they won't be returning home with three points.
Frankly, too many of this Arsenal side aren't up to the job. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone once again looked all finger and thumbs, Andres Santos's defending would have shamed a Sunday morning footballer and Gervinho played as if he hadn't slept since Sunday morning.
The Arsenal fans made clear their displeasure at the final whistle, sending their team down the tunnel with a chorus of boos. Assistant coach Steve Bould, standing in for the third and final time for the banned Arsene Wenger, later admitted it had been an uncomfortable night. "Of course the fans are frustrated. So are we," said Bould. "We haven't played anything like we can. We lacked a bit of confidence for whatever reason."
Arsenal also lacked concentration and it was from one such lapse that Klaas Jan-Huntelaar gave Schalke the lead on 76 minutes. The two centre-backs, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker, were caught napping by the Dutchman, who nipped in between them and drilled the ball past Mannone.
Ten minutes later the Germans doubled their lead as Jefferson Farfan once again ran rings around the disastrous Santos. Farfan's cross was buried by Afellay, a goal that was far too easy in its execution.
Yet it wasn't just in defence where Arsenal were dire. Up front there was no edge and it's becoming increasingly apparent that teams have realised that if they stop Santi Cazorla then they stop Arsenal. The little Spaniard has been the Gunners' creative inspiration this season but last night Schalke denied him time and space and the result was an Arsenal side that never really looked like scoring.
It was Arsenal's first home defeat in a Champions League group game since losing 3-0 to Inter in 2003, and captain Thomas Vermaelen acknowledged his side's shortcomings. "We didn't create enough chances," he said. "We gave it 100 per cent, but it was a bit difficult. These moments are difficult but you have to work hard."
The message likely to be rammed home to Wenger and the Arsenal board at this morning's AGM is that working hard is not enough; the club must also start spending big if they're to maintain their position among the European elite. ·