London: For Arsenal it seemed their chickens came home to roost as their proud record of never having lost to foreign opposition at the Emirates Stadium ended with a whimper on Wednesday. Their 2-0 defeat by Schalke 04 may not prove terminal to their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League but the manner of it left a pall of gloom hanging over the under-achieving north London club. The club's transfer policy in recent years has seen world class individuals such as Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie allowed to leave and be replaced by lesser models.
On Wednesday they managed just one shot on target. Gervinho, sporadically effective since joining the club from Lille in 2011, ran around to little effect and was eventually replaced by summer signing Olivier Giroud who barely got a kick, while German striker Lukas Podolski started on the left wing. Playmaker Santi Cazorla, recruited from Malaga, struggled to influence the game while at the back Arsenal looked at sixes and sevens with Brazilian left back Andre Santos tormented by Jefferson Farfan. Injuries have exaggerated Arsenal's problems. Abou Diaby's physicality is missed, Kieran Gibbs would surely have kept a better grip on Farfan and teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have given Arsenal more attacking threat.
Theo Walcott, whose relationship with the Arsenal crowd has deteriorated, would have been invaluable but was sidelined with a chest injury. Even striker Nicklas Bendtner, derided by Arsenal's fans most of the time he was there, would have offered some hope on Wednesday but he is currently on loan at Juventus. Then there is Jack Wilshere. Rarely can a player's reputation have been enhanced as much as Wilshere's without kicking a ball in anger for 14 months. Not only is he now seen as the vital cog in Arsenal's midfield, the new Fabregas, he is also viewed as England's new Paul Gascoigne. He may return at the weekend.
The club's transfer policy in recent years has seen players like Nasri, Fabregas and van Persie allowed to leave.
There are lots of ifs and buts, however, and Arsenal's squad looks thin on established big-game players. Thursday's AGM could be a lively affair and manager Arsene Wenger, whose own record in the transfer market is under scrutiny, acknowledges there will be some tough questions having fallen 10 points off the pace in the Premier League following Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Norwich City. "I can understand people's concerns about our competitiveness this season," Wenger said before Wednesday's defeat. "I share that concern. However I believe that we can be competitive. We have a very limited margin of error now."
Wenger was absent from the bench on Wednesday as he served the third of a three-game touchline ban but that could hardly excuse such a lame display, after all they were equally poor in the 1-0 defeat by Norwich City that left them 10 points off the pace in the Premier League. His assistant Steve Bould spoke of the team being "jaded" but the season is still in its infancy and that will not wash with the fans who booed their team off at the end. "We looked jaded, I don't know why that is. Coming off the international break we haven't performed really," said Bould. "We normally create chances and at the moment we're not, so we have to correct that."
Asked about whether Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere could feature against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend, Bould did offer some better news. "They might be considered," he said. "It's not set in stone yet. We might need that, one or two need freshening up I think." Arsenal should still qualify from Group B, although should they lose their next game away to Schalke they could find themselves in a scrap with Olympiakos for second spot.