Schalke 2 Arsenal 2: Rocky road for Gunners after Walcott's flying start
00:03 GMT, 7 November 2012
Theo Walcott may have put himself closer to a new deal at Arsenal with a goal on Tuesday night but manager Arsene Wenger may feel he would be better spending the money on shoring up his leaky defence.
Walcott hit the opening goal and Olivier Giroud added a second soon after as Arsenal raced into a 2-0 lead.
On target: Jefferson Farfan's second-half strike goes in off the outstretched foot of Thomas Vermaelen (below)
Schalke: Unnerstall, Uchida (Hoger 25), Howedes, Matip, Fuchs, Jones, Neustadter, Farfan, Holtby (Barnetta 90), Afellay, Huntelaar, Hoger (Papadopoulos 66).
Subs Not Used: Hildebrand, Moritz, Draxler, Kolasinac.
Booked: Matip, Fuchs, Jones.
Goals: Huntelaar 45, Farfan 67.
Arsenal: Mannone, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla (Coquelin 90), Podolski (Andre Santos 90), Giroud.
Subs Not Used: Shea, Djourou, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Chamakh.
Booked: Cazorla, Podolski.
Goals: Walcott 18, Giroud 26.
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).
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But it was the Gunners' defensive
frailties – evident in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on
Saturday – that came to the fore yet again as they threw away their
advantage to remain a point behind leaders Schalke in Group B with two
The England winger's eighth goal in four starts this season – and 50th for Arsenal – put his side ahead.
An increase on the 75,000-per-week five-year deal offered to him and a
regular chance to play as a centre forward remain the two sticking
points in talks over a new deal.
But while Wenger may not be able to
guarantee the 100,000-per-week deal Walcott is asking for, giving him a
chance to play up front is something he can control and Walcott did his
chances of being the club's No 1 striker no harm with a cool finish,
although he missed a glorious chance to snatch a dramatic victory with
the last kick of the game.
Walcott was the shock name on Arsene
Wenger's teamsheet, recovering from a stomach illness to make his first
Premier League or Champions League start since rejecting a new contract
at the end of August.
Theo joy: Walcott pounces to open
French fancy: Giroud celebrates after giving his side a two-goal lead over the German outfit
Touch of Klaas: Huntelaar scores on the stroke of half-time
As the Eye of the Tiger boomed out of
the Veltins-Arena PA system ahead of kick-off, Wenger – who returned
to the Champions League touchline after a three-match ban – knew it
would take the iron will of Rocky Balboa to keep Schalke's attacking
quartet of Lewis Holtby, Ibrahim Affelay, Jefferson Farfan and Klaas-Jan
Huntelaar off the scoresheet.
Inevitably, the Germans, who
comfortably won 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium two weeks ago, started much
the brighter, dominating early possession with right back Atsuto Uchida
looking dangerous down the Arsenal left.
Christian Fuchs had the first clear
chance of the night when his strike was blocked by midfielder Mikel
Arteta after a rapid counter-attack before Arsenal goalkeeper Vito
Mannone was forced into an excellent low stop to deny Afellay's low
Huub Stevens's side went close again 60 seconds later as captain Benedikt Howedes headed narrowly over the bar.
Arsenal were rocking and should have
been behind. But somehow, against the run of play, they conjured up a
surprise opening goal for Walcott. Roman Neustadter's dreadful defensive
header in the 18th minute gave Giroud the opportunity to bear down on
goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall but just as the Frenchman was about to shoot,
Howedes slid in with a brilliant last-ditch challenge.
But following up was Walcott, who
picked up the rebound before stroking the ball into an empty net.
No-one, not even Wenger, could say his side deserved their goal.
Blow: Arsenal let slip a two-goal advantage in Germany
So, you can only imagine what was
going through his mind when eight minutes later his side doubled their
advantage. Schalke made a mess of clearing their lines after Walcott and
Jack Wilshere combined down the right, with the ball eventually
breaking to Lukas Podolski, whose cross was nodded home by Giroud. It
was the France striker's first Champions League goal for the club.
Giroud missed a glorious chance to
double his tally with a poor header from Santi Cazorla's free-kick. But
Huntelaar dragged the home side back into the game with the final kick
of the first half, firing past Mannone from 12 yards after Holtby's
Fury: Podolski was booked after kicking the ball away in frustration as Wenger (right) watches on
Arsenal had Mannone to thank in the
51st minute when he thwarted Huntelaar in a one-on-one after
Neustadter's through-pass. Schalke were throwing everything at Arsenal
and had an appeal for a penalty turned down after Per Mertesacker looked
to have handled in the box.
But the Germans deservedly dragged
themselves level in the 66th minute when Farfan fired home from close
range, via a Thomas Vermaelen deflection, as Arsenal failed to clear
Yellow peril: Walcott is mobbed after opening the scoring in Germany
Level pegging: Schalke egualise with 67 minutes gone
Huntelaar, Farfan and Jermaine Jones
missed decent chances to give the hosts the lead their dominance
warranted. And the Germans' wastefulness in front of goal was nearly
punished with the final kick of the game. But it was Walcott who fluffed
his lines after capitalising on defensive uncertainty as, with only
Unnerstall to beat, he shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It would have been an epic end for Walcott and his side. But an end they would not have deserved.