Champions League Group B, Emirates Stadium – Arsenal 0 Schalke 2 (Huntelaar 76, Afellay 86)
Another poor performance from Arsenal saw them go down 2-0 at home to Schalke in Group B of the Champions League, their first European defeat at the Emirates Stadium since 2009 and first to non-English opposition since Internazionale won at Highbury in 2003.
Off the back of a dreadful display at Norwich at the weekend, Arsenal again showed no cutting edge up front, while hapless left-back Andre Santos was repeatedly and ruthlessly exposed by second-half goals from Dutch duo Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay.
Santos was so poor that Schalke targeted him – Lewis Holtby and replacement Tranquillo Barnetta barely touched the ball in open play as Schalke worked almost everything down their right.
The result sees Schalke go top of Group B, one point ahead of Arsenal, with Olympiacos scoring a late winner in France to move above Montpellier into third.
Arsene Wenger, sitting out the final match of his ban, made one key change from the 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road by replacing striker Olivier Giroud with midfielder Francis Coquelin.
Once more the North London side missed the direct running of Theo Walcott as they wasted 90 minutes of possession by barely threatening young German keeper Lars Unnerstall – his first meaningful save came from substitute Serge Gnabry in injury time, Arsenal’s first shot on target.
Gervinho – a better support striker – fired wide when Lukas Podolski found him unmarked at the near post, a promising start that soon faded.
For all Arsenal’s ball retention and pretty patterns, Schalke were playing within themselves as they sought to build on their weekend win over Borussia Dortmund.
Most worrying for Arsenal was the comical display of left-back Santos who, along with a bumbling Vito Mannone, was out of his depth.
Mannone was fortunate not to give away a penalty when Afellay was booked for his flamboyant tumble over the Italian keeper’s wild lunge.
Podolski was enjoying the space afforded by Japan right-back Atsuto Uchida. However, his opposite number Santos was enjoying it a little too much, leaving gaps that Schalke exploited. The worst of Santos’s first-half blunders saw last season’s Bundesliga top-scorer Huntelaar somehow put wide when Uchida found him unmarked.
Remarkably, Santos – the equivalent of a drunken uncle at a family party – came out for the second half and immediately showed why he is a liability, and why Arsenal are dependent on Kieran Gibbs.
The Brazilian’s run and combination with Santi Cazorla almost created a goal for Coquelin but, seconds later, his misguided lunge let Jefferson Farfan through – again Schalke failed to punish as Benedikt Hoewedes blasted over.
Arsenal were toiling as the fog settled and, despite their blunted attack, there was still no sign of Giroud. Gervinho, meanwhile, flitted from the sublime to the ridiculous, ruining a promising run with a dive, for which he was booked.
With a quarter of an hour left Giroud was finally introduced for Gervinho. Seconds later his defence gifted Schalke a goal. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen, as expected, pushed up to play the lingering Huntelaar offside: Santos and Carl Jenkinson inexplicably stayed deep. So when the Dutchman latched on to Afellay’s speculative header, he was onside, and gobbled up the chance with a clinical low finish.
Jenkinson may have moved in time but Santos was nowhere near, and he almost handed Schalke a second by going walkabout a few minutes later, Huntelaar finding space but unable to find a team-mate with his low cross.
Things were getting desperate for Arsenal, who introduced Andrei Arshavin and 17-year-old Gnabry, who impressed with some deft touches.
But it was pantomime jester Santos who struck again, somehow allowing Farfan the freedom of the right despite having a 10-yard head start on the Peruvian, hapless in the extreme as the winger picked out Afellay for a far-post tap-in.
With four minutes remaining Arsenal’s support left in droves – and they missed their only effort on goal of the night as Gnabry forced a smart stop from Unnerstall.
Arsenal should get out of the group, as Olympiacos are an average side and Montpellier a busted flush. But if they are to stay in the competition into the spring, and qualify next season, their ever-thinning squad needs a new backbone.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jefferson Farfan – Schalke: Everything went through the Peru winger, understandable given Andre Santos was playing at left-back. Created the second goal and gave Arsenal a torrid time down the right.
ARSENAL: Mannone 5, Jenkinson 5, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 6, Santos 3, Coquelin 6, Arteta 5, Ramsey 5, Cazorla 6, Podlski 6, Gervinho 5. Subs: Arshavin N/A, Giroud N/A, Gnabry N/A
SCHALKE: Unnnerstall 7, Uchida 7, Hoewedes 7, Matip 7, Fuchs 6, Neustaedter 6, Hoeger 6, Afellay 7, Farfan 7, Holtby 6, Huntelaar 7. Subs: Barnetta 6, Jones 7, Marica N/A