Do Your Homework: FC Schalke 04

Merely one week ago most Arsenal fans, especially with our incredible record of not losing at home in the Champions league to a foreign team since 2003, would have seen Wednesday’s game against Schalke as a tough but very win-able fixture. Domestic form over the last week has thrown a different complexion on tomorrow’s proceedings. We all know about Arsenal’s forgettable showing at Norwich, which stands in stark contrast to a very impressive away victory for Shalke over big rivals Dortmund, but what of the dark German horses?

Shalke are managed by Huub Stevens, a former Dutch international defender who has enjoyed a long and nomadic managerial existence, mainly in the Netherlands and Germany. This is actually Stevens’ second spell at Shalke. Between 1996 and 2002 he took charge for the first time, winning the UEFA Cup in 1997 and in 1999 the Shalke fans voted him the ‘trainer of the century’. Stevens returned to Schalke in September 2011 and has steadied the ship. Last season inconsistencies in key matches meant they finished just outside  of the trophies. They lost to Bilbao in the quarter finals of the Europa League, and lost all of their matches against the top two Bundesliga sides, Bayern and Dortmund, meaning they ended the season in 3rd.

So, does their victory over Dortmund on the weekend signal a significant improvement this time around? The danger man continues to be Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, a player Arsenal have been strongly linked to. Last season he scored 29 in the Bundesliga and 48 in total. In Tuesday’s press conference Wenger spoke of the danger he possesses and the relationship he and Thomas Vermaelen enjoy from their Ajax days:

Thomas knows him well. We have to be focused in the box with Huntelaar

They are well organised, dangerous on the counter attack, but I expect us to respond in a strong way

Huntelaar himself has been speaking of his respect for the Arsenal midfield and the importance of denying us space high up the pitch. He also hints at their fear of sitting too deep and inviting pressure, something that actually works against us all the time actually:

If we show the same attitude against Arsenal as we did against Dortmund, we’ve got a chance. We have to make sure we close down the spaces. Arsenal have very good midfielders. We can’t afford to concentrate solely on defending, though. We have to go forward like we did in Dortmund.

We’ll be really motivated going into the game, but that’s more to do with our opponents rather than the game against Montpellier. Obviously it was a shame that we gave away two points against Montpellier but we’ve put that behind us now. We’re totally focused on Arsenal and are determined to take something from the game – if possible, three points of course.

The late goal conceded at home to Montpellier meant Schalke added one point to the three they picked up in a 2-1 away win at Olympiacos on matchday one. It looks as though dangerman Draxler is still out with an arm injury picked up against the French but we also have to be wary of for Ibrahim Afellay, the speedy Dutchman on loan from FC Barcelona. You would expect Afellay to play on the left with Farfan on the right and Huntelaar through the middle. Holtby will be sitting at the top of a midfield diamond. Jenkinson and Santos will have to be constantly aware not to venture too far up the pitch leaving us exposed on the counter-attack. Arteta will need to be as disciplined as ever, keeping an eye on Holtby as well as watching Huntelaar whenever he chooses to drop deep as he did against Dortmund.

We’ll have opportunities of our own and you can bet our own Germans will be right up for this one. Podolski has a great scoring record against Schalke, bagging one in each of the league fixtures for Koln last year and both of our centre backs should know a fair bit about Huntelaar. Looking at the state of the group a draw wouldn’t be too bad a result but you feel we all need a win to banish the cobwebs of Norwich. Come on the Arsenal.

Nick

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