Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Schalke in the Champions League on Tuesday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Raphael Honigstein for their views.
After their impressive performance in the 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago, Arsenal will be fully aware of Schalke’s attacking quality. Huub Stevens’s side combine a combative midfield with a pacy forward line featuring plenty of width, and the Gunners must defend much more astutely in wide positions.
Stevens might be even more attack-minded at home. The positioning of Lewis Holtby will be particularly interesting - the half-Englishman often operates closer to goal at the Veltins-Arena, and can provide a direct goal threat in addition to his creative ability from between the lines.
Schalke lost 3-2 away to Hoffenheim at the weekend, despite dominating the game - they had 73 per cent of possession, and attempted 23 shots compared to Hoffenheim’s six. Clearly, Hoffenheim rode their luck, but they also demonstrated that Schalke can be vulnerable to quick counter-attacks. “The match in Hoffenheim is something we have to learn from,” says Stevens, but Arsenal can also take lessons from Saturday’s result.
Hoffenheim’s opener came when Kevin Volland won the ball deep inside his own half and knocked the ball out to Fabian Johnson. The left-back sprinted over the halfway line, then returned the ball for Volland’s fine finish. The ball travelled 80 yards in 10 seconds, via two passes, and Hoffenheim’s stoppage-time winner also involved attacking the Schalke defence immediately. The holding midfield duo - likely to be Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustadter - are strong in the tackle and best avoided, while the wingers are attack-minded and can defend sloppily.
Arsenal have counter-attacked well on occasion this season, most notably away at Liverpool in a fine 2-0 victory, and a similar display might be appropriate here. Lukas Podolski, who scored the opener at Anfield, might play a crucial role with his directness from the left. He also opened the scoring both home and away against Schalke last season, although his Cologne side went on to lose those matches 4-1 and 5-1 respectively.
The way the first game went didn’t surprise me and I think Arsenal could try to do to Schalke tonight what Stevens’ team did to them at the Emirates.
Schalke lost at the weekend but, if anything, I would expect that setback to make them sharper. They were naïve at the weekend. They had a lot of chances and when they equalised with eight minutes to go, they all ran forward chasing a winner and got sucker-punched. They usually show a lot more maturity and I don’t think Saturday’s result will be much of an issue.
There’s a small chance that Julian Draxler might play against Arsenal. He’s an excellent player. Lewis Holtby gets a lot of plaudits but hasn’t actually played consistently well throughout the season. I think Draxler is a better player in that No 10 position. He can play out wide too. He broke his wrist not long ago, but if he features will be a big player.
For Schalke, before the competition started, they would have been very happy to get out of the group. Now, with a win they could all but ensure they go through and with a serious chance of finishing top. I don’t think it’s so much an issue. I think both teams will be happy with a draw and try and win the group in the last two games.
I’m going to go for a 0-0.Copyright 2016 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