By Richard Clarke in Gelsenkirchen
Arsenal snatched a valuable point at Schalke on Tuesday night as they inched towards qualification from Champions League Group B.
Arsène Wenger’s side had their eye on a morale-boosting victory when Theo Walcott and Oliver Giroud rattled in goals midway through the first half.
However, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar produced a precise finish to reduce the arrears on the stroke of half-time and Jefferson Farfan equalised just past the hour mark as the home side built up a head of steam.
Arsenal had to withstand serious Schalke pressure throughout but Walcott nearly grabbed all three points with the final kick of the game.
So while this could have been more, it might have been less - it was that sort of game.
Despite Olympiacos winning, Wenger’s men are still second - one point shy of Schalke and one clear of the Greek side.
Those teams play each next while Arsenal entertain bottom-side Montpellier.
This group could well go down to the wire but Wenger’s side have more than a fighting chance after grinding out a decent draw at the Veltins-Arena.
The spectre of Saturday's disappointing defeat at Manchester United was still apparent in the pre-match build-up. The Arsenal manager had been analytical, honest and business-like his approach. He knew the only true ghostbuster would be the next victory.
Aaron Ramsey had limped off at Old Trafford with a groin injury that kept him in England for this trip. Walcott shook off his own bout of sickness to replace him on the right.
The Veltins-Arena was a superb sight before kick-off - bright, noisy, and boisterous.
In many ways the home side had out-Arsenaled the Gunners at Emirates Stadium. They had been fluent, fast and inventive; presumably had since added confidence given the manner of their 2-0 victory a fortnight ago.
Certainly they displayed all these qualities in a lively opening quarter of an hour.
Christian Fuchs saw an inquisitive shot blocked in the fourth minute then, after Lukas Podolski was robbed in midfield, the same player spread the ball wide to Ibrahim Afellay, who drilled a low shot towards the near post. Vito Mannone flung out his right hand to palm the ball aside.
In the 12th minute Benedikt Howedes headed narrowly over from Farfan’s corner.
The home side had created three good chances while Arsenal had struggled to get going offensively.
In the end, the impetus was handed to Wenger’s side but, oh how they snatched the opportunity with both hands.
On 18 minutes, Roman Neustadter’s miscued header towards keeper Lars Unnerstall fell woefully short. Giroud seized the ball and when he was robbed just inside the area Walcott nipped in to convert from close range.
It was Walcott’s 50th goal in his 233rd appearance for the Club.
More importantly, it was everything Arsenal needed.
Just before the half-hour the lead would be doubled. Walcott began the move on the right and Giroud’s tenacity kept it going when he slid the ball to Podolski on the left. The German whipped in a cross to the near post where the Frenchman flung himself full-length to crash home a close-range header.
Giroud maybe an educated, erudite Frenchman but this goal was that of a muck-and-nettles English centre forward from the 1970s.
Schalke were rocked. Like Arsenal, their passing game was founded on confidence and conceding goals in that fashion upset the equilibrium.
Farfan weaved through and blasted wide when he should have hit the target but, at the other end, Giroud met Santi Cazorla’s free-kick with a powerful flick. However he directed it straight at the keeper.
It seemed that Arsenal had done their job for the half. They had soaked up pressure and snatched a brace of crucial goals. However, there would be a sting.
Arsenal lost possession in midfield and Lewis Holtby’s header gave Huntelaar the sniff of a chance.
It was all he needed.
With the visiting defenders closing-in, the Dutchman allowed the ball to roll across his body to tee-up the cleanest of left-footed strikes into the far corner.
It was cruel on Arsenal because they had looked increasingly comfortable.
And because there was barely time to kick-off before the half-time whistle went.
Five minutes after the restart, Huntelaar nearly brought about parity. With the Arsenal defence appealing for offside, he received the ball 12 yards out with time to choose his spot. Most of the time, this situation has only one conclusion.
However this time, Mannone stood up to make an excellent stop with his legs.
Schalke were now turning the screw and forcing Arsenal back. They claimed a penalty just before the hour for a handball by Per Mertesacker, then Marco Hoger slammed an angled shot against the outside of the post and Holtby had a dip from distance.
Eventually, in the 68th minute, the equaliser arrived.
A long, raking cross from Afellay was missed by Holtby but found Farfan at the far post. His low drive beat Mannone and, although Vermaelen turned the ball home, it was always going in.
As often happens, Schalke’s dominance subsided after they had hauled back the sizable deficit. Arsenal started to make inroads and, although offside, Walcott slid a shot against the inside of the far post.
The German side kept coming forward but they seemed somewhat spent due to their previous exertions. They could not raise themselves again.
Arsenal stuck manfully to their task and may have stolen all three points with the final kick of the game when substitute Francis Coquelin sent Walcott through.
He managed to pull the ball from under his feet but his shot bounced back off the keeper.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Cazorla 90 Yellow Card
- Walcott Goal!
- Podolski 90 Yellow Card
- Giroud Goal!
- Andre Santos 90
- Coquelin 90
- Uchida 25
- Fuchs Yellow Card
- Howedes (C)
- Matip Yellow Card
- Roman Neustadter
- Jones Yellow Card
- Farfan Goal!
- Klaas Jan Huntelaar Goal!
- Hoger 66 25
- Papadopoulos 66