Arsenal shot themselves in the foot with a below-par performance against Schalke. In the end, that was about as much shooting as they mustered, as they struggled to register a chance of genuine merit on a night that belonged to the German side. The Arsenal management are concerned that opportunities have dried up, and in a replica of their defeat at Norwich last weekend, they were beaten with barely a whimper in response.
Steve Bould, the assistant manager who took charge with Arsène Wenger serving the last game of his three-match touchline ban, could not hide his disappointment. "It is frustrating, of course. We've not played anywhere like we can," he said. "We lack a bit of confidence for whatever reason. A lack of chances is not what we are accustomed to and we need to correct that. I don't know why that is. Coming off the international break we haven't performed. In the West Ham game [a 3-1 victory] we looked really sharp and confident and since the internationals we have looked jaded."
It was indicative of quite how impotent Arsenal were that Bould conceded he would have been delighted with an outcome of 0-0. "This is a tough competition and they are a good side that beat Borussia Dortmund at the weekend," he added.
The attacking formation, with Gervinho in the centre flanked by a drifting Aaron Ramsey and subdued Lukas Podolski, hardly made Schalke's defence break into a sweat. In fact the only effort on target came late in the game from the teenage substitute Serge Gnabry. Further back, Arsenal did not function well either, with André Santos particularly vulnerable and error prone. The Brazilian's lapses contributed to both of Schalke's ruthlessly taken goals.
Bould is hopeful that the return of one or two important names from the injury list will bring a lift before the visit of QPR on Saturday. Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both in contention. "They might be considered, I believe. It's not set in stone yet," said Bould. He also pointed to the need to cut out the habit of conceding the first goal. "Scoring first will be a major plus for us at the minute. We have gone behind in the last five games. To keep coming back is tough at times. We might need an early first goal on Saturday. It wouldn't half help."
Arsenal's captain, Thomas Vermaelen, was dejected by the fact his team could not improve on the abject display at Norwich. "I'm really disappointed," he said. "We lost on Saturday and we wanted to do better here. But it was a little bit the same story; we couldn't create enough chances to score goals and then at the end we conceded. It's difficult to explain."
Wenger will be back in situ when Arsenal pick up the Champions League with the return game against Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. They trail the Bundesliga club in Group B and although they still have some breathing space ahead of the other contenders, Olympiakos and Montpellier, they need to improve their performances considerably to win the group. "I'm sure we will perform a damn sight better next time," Bould added.
Wenger endured this from the director's box with Stan Kroenke, the club's majority shareholder, also in attendance. A rare home defeat in the Champions League was hardly the ideal prelude for Thursday morning's AGM.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald