Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger and his players welcome Schalke to Emirates Stadium on Wednesday so, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and German journalist Ulli Bruenger for their views.
Huub Stevens has created a cohesive, well-balanced unit in his second spell at Schalke; a solid, disciplined spine is complemented by a creative threat from wide.
He favours a 4-2-3-1 formation but can alter the shape with a small tweak, while he has also found the right balance between the familiarity of a consistent starting XI and a squad rotation system to keep his players fresh.
From this season’s two Champions League matchdays, only Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Arsenal have a higher pass completion rate than Schalke. Their good ball retention starts at the back - centre backs Joel Matip and Kyriakos Papadopoulos were both blooded as holding midfielders and, while competent defenders, their assured passing quality is still a key feature.
Stevens usually prefers a double pivot in the centre of the pitch, with Roman Neustädter alongside Jermaine Jones. However, this can change - in the recent 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, for example, Jones was pushed further up to close down the opposition’s midfielders and Neustädter became the sole holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1.
Stevens has tremendous options on the flanks. Jefferson Farfan, a quick old-fashioned dribbler, is likely to start on the right, but on the opposite wing Stevens could use various players. Youngster Julian Draxler is a tricky winger, Swiss international Tranquilo Barnetta likes to drift inside to the centre of the pitch, while Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay is somewhere in-between.
Up front, Huntelaar proved himself a quality striker with 47 goals in 48 games last season - he’s a consistent poacher but also clever with his movement and link-up play. In Schalke’s previous Champions League match against Montpellier, Stevens used Teemu Pukki as a second striker, but this remains a surprise alternative system - against Arsenal, he’ll want to get numbers into the centre of midfield.
Schalke will come into the game full of confidence after beating their main rivals Dortmund in Saturday’s derby. It was a massive result for both the fans and the players. They’ve started the Bundesliga season well and will be hopeful of picking up at least a point against Arsenal. They will probably try and keep it tight early on, and then grow more attacking as the game progresses.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is the lone striker, though he is supported by Jefferson Farfan and Ibrahim Afellay from out wide. They usually play with two defensive midfielders, though both Marco Hoger and Roman Neustadter are still fairly inexperienced when it comes to European football.
Schalke’s strength is undoubtedly their attack. Huntelaar is a prolific striker and Afellay and Farfan are quick, skilful and excellent when in a one-on-one situation.
The right back Atsuto Uchida is good offensively. He can cross well. Defensively though, he is still young and learning so can sometimes make positional errors.
I think there will be goals in this game. I can see it being 2-2.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source