Arsenal have made several changes at the club. The alterations might almost have distracted supporters from dwelling on the fact that Robin van Persie is now on the Manchester United payroll. The real break with the past cannot come, however, with just some new faces in the squad photograph. Prior to the interval, Arsenal dominated yet found it hard to make a clear opening or deliver a ruthless finish.
The Champions League, admittedly, is not supposed to put anyone at ease, especially when clubs from two historic, football nations confront one another. There were opportunities from an early stage but composure was scarce then. When Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski picked out Gervinho with a low ball from the left in the 10th minute, the centre-forward fired off target.
It was not a particularly eventful game at that point. On such occasions, the decisions of the referee can have even more significance. Jonas Eriksson opted for a yellow card rather than a penalty when Afellay was put clear by Farfán and went down as the Arsenal goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, closed in on him. There was an air of underachievement at that stage. Even a marksman of Huntelaar’s class was unable to rise above it when he missed the target after Atsuto Uchida picked him out in the 43rd minute.
The hosts had been rather subdued. Arsène Wenger’s side will have to develop an identity before they can make an impact. Despite nearly eight years without a trophy, curiosity, if not anticipation, still ensures that large numbers go through the Arsenal turnstiles. Followers of the club would be delighted if a bolstering of the squad in defence, midfield and attack led at last to a more capable line-up.
That does not look imminent while the team is to be found in the middle of the Premier League table. In the trophyless years since the FA Cup was won in 2005, Arsenal have intermittently suggested that they were close to real achievement. With 10 men, following the red card for Jens Lehmann, they still led until Barcelona overtook them in the last quarter-hour of the 2006 Champions League final.
The lasting poignancy of that occasion does not necessarily rest with the outcome. A fan could focus instead on the fact that the present line-up is far from the standard of the team six years ago. Encouragement can only come if the new batch is added to in January or next summer. At least Wenger has not been fixated with the nurturing of fresh but callow talent.
There has instead been a quiet search for seasoned professionals, with the midfielder Santi Cazorla an obvious example given his years in La Liga. Knowhow was not brought to bear readily against a competitive Bundesliga side which included Lewis Holtby, the son of an Everton supporting Liverpudlian who was born in the Mönchengladbach area and has been capped for Germany. All in all, Arsenal had allowed Schalke to be the main source of interest before the interval.
The tempo set by the hosts was much higher at the beginning of the second-half but hardly sufficed to nullify opponents who had an appetite for the battle.
Schalke had an outstanding opportunity to score after Farfán got free of André Santos but saw his cut-back fired high by Benedikt Höwedes, the captain and centre-back. Considering that Schalke were the visitors, the boldness they displayed seemed to disconcert their opponents.
The goalless condition of the fixture remained a puzzle. Arsenal had three attackers when in possession, but invention was too often lacking in the service they received. There was a glimpse of danger for Schalke, when Gervinho’s low delivery from the left went slightly too far in front of Podolski.
Any encouragement lay in the thought that Arsenal were a little more imposing then, but there was nothing at all bashful about the opposition. That frame of mind might come naturally too them, but the manager must have been alert, as well, to the vulnerability seen lately.
Wenger’s side sought a penalty after 71 minutes, but the referee did not deem that the substitute Jermaine Jones had made significant contact on Gervinho. Impact proved elusive in this match until Schalke struck.