While it might be easier to blame the defense for falling apart near the end, the bigger problem for Arsenal in their Champions League loss was the lack of a natural and capable player to finish the nice work done by the midfield, as Gervinho proved once again he isn’t the player to put their trust in.
This isn’t exactly Gervinho’s fault. He was never a great finisher, and has always been more of a winger or a wide drifting second striker. The poor form of Olivier Giroud and the poor decisions made by Arsene Wenger over the summer regarding who he buys to replace Robin van Persie have come back to bite Arsenal, as they lose their second consecutive match and third in five. Suddenly, even qualifying from the Champions League doesn’t look as easy.
The midfield, also suffering from a shortage due to injury, with Francis Coquelin playing in the starting lineup, did a good job. Mikel Arteta wasn’t at his best, but Santi Cazorla had dazzling moments with his passing and dribbling. Problem was there was no one to really place in front of Lars Unnerstall, who had a very uneventful evening, having to actually make one save the entire 90 minutes.
The Arsenal attacked crashed upon a very organized defense, lead by Benedikt Höwedes, that simply didn’t seem too intimidated by the lack of cutting edge the home side had to offer. Schalke didn’t try to make something out of their defensive efficiency until very late in the match, where more Arsenal problems, specifically at left back, where Andre Santos made a mess of things once again, allowing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Affelay to score.
Arsenal’s only loss at home in the champions league over the last nine years was against Manchester United in the 2009 semifinal. This might suggest that this is the most flawed of Arsene Wenger’s teams over the last 8 years, and many would agree, especially despairing Arsenal fans, who see another start to the season crush any of their hopes for a title or anything remotely close before October even ended.
I’ll borrow a line from John Brewin, who wrote about the same subject last night: Wenger’s stubborn nature often results in mistakes being repeated to the point of them proving fatal. That pattern was repeated here. You can’t put a finger on the bigger problem, in the macro sense of it, any better than that.
With the kind of economic thinking guiding Arsenal through the last six years, there’s no way of competing and winning titles. Maybe in a few years, when the rest of Europe collapses and only those who saved for a rainy day remain standing firm; but not now. Not with these players, always on the wait for them to develop and reach their full potential. Some never do, and those who do find somewhere else to play in. Wenger builds lacking and not deep enough squads, and his team starts falling apart at the first moment of injuries and fatigue. Nothing new under the North London sun, only different players to blame.