Offshore Drilling, Champions League: at Schalke 2, Arsenal 2

Leave a comment

Meeting for the second time in two weeks, Schalke again proved superior to Arsenal, even if Tuesday’s final score didn’t reflect their superiority. A first half error from midfielder Roman Neustädter (heading a long pass from Per Mertesacker back and beyond his defense) began a 10-minute dip that left Schalke down two after 26 minutes. The Germans eventually fought back through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán, salvaging a draw that keeps them on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group B.

Man of the Match: Paired with Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta has had to rekindle his defensive midfielder past to provide some deterrent at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Today, that deterrent was often pushed into the back, Arteta sliding into the left side of the Gunners’ defense to cover the space vacated by Thomas Vermaelen (as the Gunners’ makeshift left back went wide). The positioning paid off in the second half when Arteta was able to fall back and clear a ball off Arsenal’s line with his left shoulder.

In the other facet of his game, Arteta was his normal self, leading the team with 52 completed passes at an 82 percent rate. His best ball came in the build up to Arsenal’s second goal when he split Schalke’s defense with a 15-yard pass for Wilshere, who played the ball out before Lukas Podolski found Olivier Giroud to make it 2-0.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Schalke’s midfield variety is enviable.

There are better midfields in the world, but few provide the variety – the balance – of Schalke’s. Jermaine Jones provides a ranging, physical presence. The acquisition Neustädter has added some needed savvy and nuance. Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay provides a wide threat with the intricacy to contribute through the middle, while right win Jefferson Farfán is an imposing matchup for any opponent (as evidenced by Arsène Wenger’s decision to start Vermaelen ahead of Andre dos Santos at left back).

Lewis Holtby’s improvement has helped bring the group together. The 22-year-old occupies the playmaker’s role in Huub Stevens’ 4-2-3-1, leading the team to two goals per game in Germany. On Tuesday, his deft touch to knockout a ball for Klass-Jan Huntelaar allowed his striker to pull Schalke within one just before halftime.

Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are finally starting to contribute.

Podolski may had have his best day as a Gunner, putting in a strong defensive effort and providing good service from the left. While the German international’s provided mixed results over his first few months in London, Tuesday gave of a glimpse of what Arsène Wenger hoped he was getting when he brought 27-year-old in from Kohn this summer.

Another of the Gunners’ big summer buys, Olivier Giroud, had a more mixed day, yet he still provided fans a reason for hope. His diving header in the 26th minute was as assertive a play as we’ve seen from the France international since he arrived from Montpellier.

Arsenal needs ball winners.

None of Wilshere, Arteta, or Santi Cazorla are ball-winners, yet that’s the midfield Arsenal’s relying on while Abou Diaby’s out. If you want to know why Schalke was able to hold the ball for 57 percent of the game, consider the inadequate ball-winning abilities of that trio.

Arsenal’s able to get by with that threesome against most of the Premier League or against Olympiakos and Montpellier, the other teams in their Champions League group. Against Schalke – a very good but far from elite European team – it won’t work.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Schalke lost both of their right backs during Tuesday’s game. Starter Atsuto Uchida had to leave half-way through the first, with replacement Marco Hoger getting hurt in the second half. Höwedes finished the game at right back after Kyriakos Papadopoulos came on.
  • Theo Walcott completed 14 passes. Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone completed 15.
  • Arsenal’s substitutes tell you what they think of their point in Germany: Francois Coquelin and Andres dos Santos came on for Santi Cazorla and Podolski. Given Schalke close their group stage with Olympiakos and Montpellier, Wenger was effectively conceding the group to his hosts. We’ll see if Schalke gives it back.

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter
Leave a comment

After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Leave a comment

Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.