Arsene Wenger's stock suffers untimely plunge ahead of difficult Arsenal AGM
Arsenal and England await Jack Wilshere’s return with a sense of desperation
The question is not whether Arsène Wenger is up to the job but whether he fancies it anymore. His contract is up at the end of next year.
His Arsenal team continues to evolve at glacial pace, 10 points adrift in the Premier League and last night Schalke followed Norwich into the coconut shy, administering a painful buffeting in Champions League Group B.
A tin hat is the requirement at the club's annual general meeting this morning at which Wenger can expect the now standard disapproving questions about progress following seven potless years. He will tell the critics that football is a landscape transformed since he arrived from Japan 16 years ago. Wenger was cutting edge then, a man of ideas, a forward-thinking coach whose philosophical reflections were substantiated by a new template of slick passing and deadly finishing. There were no Middle East oil magnates or Russian oligarchs with which to contend, only a belligerent Scot to throw pizzas at.
There was tolerance too, and patience. As one team faded Wenger was allowed all the time he needed to rebuild. In the age of Chelsea and now Manchester City, the Frenchman has neither the resource, nor the space in which to operate. Every set-back carries a heavier tariff, seen as evidence of decline. The defeat to Norwich represented the end of another false dawn in the league and the loss to Schalke ups the ante in Europe ahead of the return in Germany two weeks hence.
Wenger has warned that a league challenge may already be beyond Arsenal. He did not appear last night to account for this loss. Steve Bould did, talking about a lack of confidence and a flat response after the international break. There will be nothing flat about the atmosphere this morning and silence is not an option for Wenger after a thumping defeat to the third-ranked team in Germany.
Included in the Schalke line-up was a young No 10 called Lewis Holtby, whose gene pool is as much English as German courtesy of a father from Stevenage who served in Germany as a soldier. Perhaps fortunately for him, having been capped by the full Germany side last year, Holtby is not available to England. Had he been the pressure might have been intolerable.
Holtby turned 22 last month. Arsenal and England await the return of Jack Wilshere, just 16 months younger than Holtby, with a sense of unhealthy desperation. A full 90 minutes in the junior ranks on Monday precluded Wilshere's return last night. He might well appear in Schalke in a fortnight.
Holtby was the fulcrum of a well drilled, mobile Schalke attack, dovetailing dangerously alongside Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. It was the very dimension Arsenal lacked. Santi Cazorla probed skilfully, but too often there was a wide open space where a centre-forward should have been. Gervinho is not without his attributes but leading the line like Nat Lofthouse is not one of them.
As Wenger noted in his pre-match observations the Champions League is evolving quickly. Visiting teams no longer plod around happy to take a draw. They are at it from the gun. Manchester United found themselves on the early receiving end of the upwardly mobile Braga. Schalke are a notch above Braga pedigree and brought a vibrant confidence to this fixture.
Cheered on by a sizeable chunk of the Ruhr Valley population, Schalke set the tempo early and never let up. Victory at Dortmund in the Bundesliga last weekend reinforced belief, and with Roman Neustädter patrolling in front of the back four like a modern-day Franz Beckenbauer, Arsenal found the route to the 18-yard box utterly barred. As the game wore on Gervinho screamed blue murder at Aaron Ramsey for the lack of support. By then Ramsey was sucked deeper by the predatory advances of the rapid Jefferson Farfan.
Gervinho was hauled off for Olivier Giroud, another presently without goals. And within minutes the poverty of Arsenal's forward display was mocked by the speared daisy-cutter of Huntelaar. Though the finish was sharp, the conception was industrial, a couple of lumpy headers helping the ball forward. A rapier second would follow from Ibrahim Afellay to ruin Wenger's night, and in all likelihood, his morning, too.
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
sportNapoli 2 Arsenal 0: Gunners must now face either Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in knock-out stages
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
Latest in Sport
World Cup 2014: Football Manager developers predict the team of the tournament - but which England player makes it into the XI?
Roy Keane omits Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs from 'greatest' Manchester United team
Gareth Bale puts five-bedroom Essex mansion up for sale at £2.2m following £86m switch from Tottenham to Real Madrid
Former England captain Mick Mills 'turned a blind eye' to initiation ceremony abuse at Stoke City, which included sexual assault dubbed 'The Glove'
Manchester United player ratings: The best (and worst) performers for David Moyes during the season so far
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute
- 2 It’s shameful that our universities have accepted gender segregation under pressure from the most oppressive religious fanatics
- 3 Kenyan politician Mike Sonko left red-faced after photoshopping himself next to Nelson Mandela
- 4 Exeter to Edinburgh and back in a day: How one fresher's lost bet left him facing a 900-mile round trip
- 5 Selfie at funeral: Cameron squeezes in on Obama snap at Mandela memorial