About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Schalke exploit Santos clause

Thirty years ago I attended my first Arsenal match at Highbury. Birmingham City were the visitors and as was the style at the time Arsenal offered little goalscoring threat against a back four featuring debutant Noel Blake. It was an era when defences were on top, a trend exacerbated at Highbury by the presence of Don Howe in the dug out and the absence of a top class striker following the departure of Frank Stapleton to Old Trafford in the summer of 1981. With immediate replacements John Hawley and Ray Hankin not up to the job the board's cheque book had come up with Tony Woodcock and Lee Chapman but neither was firing on all cylinders when I made it to N5. Of course the dominant team at the time was Liverpool, midway through a triple title win, their playing style characterised by their ability to soak up long periods of pressure before overpowering the opposition in the latter stages of the game.
It felt like history was repeating itself on Wednesday night.German champions Schalke 04 were the visitors to North London, like Birmingham in 1982 wearing a blue shirt (although the Germans were rather more stylish than Small Heath's Patrick kit), and like Liverpool working like terriers to snuff out all Arsenal's attacking ambition before taking the points with two clinical moves late in the game.Arsenal's impotence in part due to Robin Van Persie's replacements being wholly inffective.
Off the pitch I was left a little disappointed by Schalke's tifo. Their chanting monotonous, and backed by a drum and megaphone was pale in comparison to their great rivals Borussia Dortmund's display last season. On the pitch though their relentless pressing of Arsenal, with two or even three players harassing the Gunner on the ball, proved more successful than Dortmund's more open approach. This came at the expense of much entertainment particularly in the first half, with the bloke sitting next to me regularly complaining that he hadn't driven all the way from his home in Dorset to be bored stiff.
Arsenal's inferiority was symbolised by the two full backs. On the right Carl Jenkinson though industrious provided no threat going forward in stark comparison to the man who lined up opposite him, Christian Fuchs. On the left, Andre Santos had what the Sunday People used to call a stinker. Whether by accident or design he conceded the whole of his flank on a regular basis staying too close to the central pair. His night was capped when he played Klass-Jan Huntelaar onside as the Dutch striker ran through the middle to open the scoring. Santos then failed to stop Jefferson Farfan's cross which found Ibrahim Afellay free at the far post, Jenkinson having been subbed for an attacker in a bid to salvage the game.
So Arsenal's long unbeaten home record against continental opposition was over after nine years. Beaten by an accomplished Schalke team that demonstrated the organisation that had enabled them to reach the semi final of this competition in 2011.The only men in red to emerge with much credit were Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin and its their discipline which the rest of the team needs to emulate to turn around the current losing run.


Lenny Baryea said...

Good post.

Liked the 'then and now' comparisons - Birmingham/Schalke and Stapleton/van Persie.

Read a comment elsewhere the other day that suggested many more-recent AFC fans perhaps fail to grasp that the immediate Wenger years were a 'golden period'. AFC have been through trophy droughts before. The most expensive tickets in the country, nay world, are not conducive to a sense of perspective, I suppose.

Reports of "the bloke sitting next to me regularly complaining that he hadn't driven all the way from his home in Dorset to be bored stiff" and then the rather fractious AGM the following day leave me muttering the 'modern football is rubbish' cliche once again...

Here's hoping for 3 points against QPR this afternoon. Not confident...

Steve said...

Thanks, a pity Birmingham had changed from their classic adidas kit to enhance the comparison.
Think the ticket prices don't tell the whole story as there are plenty of cheap ones available as well as the top end unlike other clubs where they start higher. Also every seat at Arsenal gives you an unrestricyed view.
I really don't understand people who travel so far on a regular basis to watch their 'home' team. I only watch Arsenal so often because I live in London.