A point away at Shalke is hardly the worst result of all time. We did behave exactly like them as what Per Mertesacker asked for before the the match. Olivier Giroud was able to feed his obsession, so there are some positives to be gained from this. We are still behind Shalke in the group standings but everything is still within our hands in terms of qualification. Home wins in the next batch of matches in the group would see us still playing in the Champions League come the turn of the year.
It doesn’t always have to be the extreme of things. It’s not only we should be very happy with the draw or we should down-hearted after allowing the home side to come back into the game. It can be in the middle and views from both sides be accepted. Given our form going into this game and how we seem to be struggling without a proper left back, a draw against the toughest opponent in the group in an away fixture should hardly amount to the manager to be sacked. Yet, there have to be some regrets that we did not pick up all 3 points yesterday.
Coming back to what Mertesacker said, we did play like Shalke. In the sense that we benefited from some poor defending and they likewise. An easy high clearance by the said German, should have been dealt with consummate ease. However, the home side compelled to give Giroud a run at goal. Unluckily for him, his feet got stuck at the last moment but fortunately for Theo Walcott, he was on hand to tuck in the lose ball. That after he himself had some difficulties in lifting the ball away from the keeper.
One up and not having to chase the game once again, we started to have more conviction in our game. Possession was kept and it was the home side that was feeling the pressure. Mikel Arteta dictated play from midfield and the Shalke fullback was kept busy with Walcott ready to speed away from him at any moment. The lead was increased when Lukas Podolski managed to get round his marker and delivered a pacy low cross into the box. Giroud reacted the quickest and plants the ball into the net with a diving header. Gotta love it when that happens.
At this point, you could sense the deflation in the home crowd as well as the the home players. Had we managed to maintain the score to half time, it could set up a far more comfortable second 45 minutes for us. We were allowed time on the ball as Shalke kept their shape worrying about conceding another goal. Yet, somehow we contrived to allow them back into the game. Santi Cazorla slipped and gifted Shalke possession in the middle of our own half. The ball came to Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, who puts it beyond the reach of Vito Mannone is goal. I bet Arsene Wenger had a half time team talk prepared before that goal and had to change it, thereafter.
The half time breather was meant for us to regroup and play our natural game in the second half. However, when a team that just come off the back of a very poor performance against one of our rivals, perhaps subconsciously we wanted to protect the lead. Teams do that. Nothing to do with how good our team are or what stature the club is. In a poor run of form and with a lead in the game, the protective instincts kicks in. We conceded possession to the opposition and was quite content to sit and protect the lead. To a large extent, we were very comfortable in doing so as well. We were compact as a unit and Shalke could not find the gap to breakthrough.
One moment of slack defending and we were level again. Bacary Sagna was caught high up and the ball was played down his side. Mertesacker went to cover initially but changed his mind. That meant that Laurent Koscielny has to cover for him and thus Thomas Vermaelen had to cover for the Frenchman. If you look at it, either Arteta or Jack Wilshere had to drop in and cover the run of Lewis Holtby because Vermaelen had to desert Jefferson Farfan to come in field. Our midfield’s lack of awareness of the runners ensured that Farfan was free to take the shot which beat Mannone and was heading towards goal before Vermaelen stuck a foot to it. Poor defending once again.
The rest of the game was played out with home side with more possession but failed to turn it into any meaningful attacks. We could have won it at the end but the ball got stuck under Walcott’s feet and easily parried away by Lars Unnerstall in Shalke’s goal. Draw is a fair reflection one hindsight and while we should never celebrate dropped points, it was a relief to come away from the game with something. We were not at our best but at least there was a better shape to the team. Walcott’s presence and Vermaelen shifted to the left, improved the side compared to our last game. The Englishman once again coming out with the goods, despite showing in the post match interview that he may still be sick.
There were a few knocks but I’m really glad to see Wilshere completing his first 90 minutes for the first team since his return. It’s a welcomed sight and hopefully his injury days are behind him now. The one week of rest will be good for his recovery. One player who did deserved credit is Mannone. In the last 2 games, he has risen up to the challenges and looked far more reliable than he had been in other times of the season. His kicking is better and his decision making has improved as well. There couple of saves in that Manchester United game and this one, would do him a world of wonders.
Of course it would be great, had we managed to hung on to the lead but the result does not mean that we will get knocked out. A point is what it is and hopefully we can build on it and start a run of positives result.