When Thierry Henry put Arsenal 3-1 ahead a minute after half-time at Highbury last night the crowd called for lightning to strike twice. Up went the chant: "Five-one, we want to win 5-1".
In the event Arsenal were happy, very happy, to beat this team by a single goal. As feared, their makeshift defence proved an unreliable barrier and only Schalke's poor finishing allowed the London club to secure their first Champions' League points of the season.
Two goals in three minutes from Freddie Ljungberg and Henry had given Arsenal a flattering 2-0 lead but Marco van Hoogdalem pulled one back just before the break. With Henry's 46th-minute penalty similarly nullified by Emile Mpenza, Arsenal endured a nervous final half-hour.
They held on but Arsène Wenger admitted they will need a much more solid performance when they visit the group leaders Panathinaikos in Greece next week. Ashley Cole will be back but not Sol Campbell or Tony Adams. A busy week on the training ground beckons for Wenger and his defenders.
The back four last night had never played together and it showed as Schalke ripped great holes in David Seaman's cover from the opening minutes. With the full-backs going walkabout and the central defence short of pace Martin Keown understandably lacked match-sharpness it proved a busy 38th birthday for Seaman.
Mpenza could have scored three times in the first 10 minutes but twice shot wildly over and once merely lobbed the ball into Seaman's hands. Seaman was more severely tested by Jörg Böhme before his defence managed to achieve a measure of cohesion.
While they were getting acquainted there was little encouragement at the other end. With a series of dummies, passes and runs going unread by team-mates it seemed the attack had never played together either. Just one opportunity was created in the opening 25 minutes. A half chance it fell to Giovanni van Bronckhorst who chipped just over the crossbar.
To lift spirits, the Arsenal fans began singing '5-1 to the English'. With only three Englishmen, and three Germans, on the pitch, it seemed to lack relevance. And yet, suddenly, the Schalke defenders began to make mistakes. One gave Robert Pires the chance to shoot from 20 yards, another offered a second opportunity to Van Bronckhorst.
With these efforts Arsenal's confidence rose. Pires, had he been playing for Juventus, might have had a penalty when he went down under a shoulder charge. Henry then sent a rasping shot just wide. Pressure has a habit of bringing its own reward in football and Arsenal, after 32 minutes, got lucky. Lauren, despite the attention of Mpenza, brought the ball out of defence, Wiltord flicked on and Ljungberg ran from half-way before shooting from 20 yards. His shot struck Tomasz Waldoch to crucially wrong-foot Oliver Reck.
Three minutes later Van Bronckhorst played a one-two with Wiltord before finding Henry. The pass was poor and the chance seemed gone but the Frenchman turned sweetly before shooting inside the corner.
Schalke, though beaten at home last week, did not crumble. With the interval looming Wiltord was caught in possession after a Schalke corner. Andreas Möller took advantage and Van Hoogdalem volleyed home his cross.
If that was a good time to score Arsenal went even better. Only 25 seconds of the second period had elapsed when Patrick Vieira ran on to Henry's pass and advanced into the Schalke area. Reck forced him wide but then brought him down. Henry stroked in his sixth goal of the season.
The cushion lasted 13 minutes. With Keown statuesque Mpenza stole behind him to head in Hajto's cross. Arsenal ought to have restored their advantage but, after Reck parried Van Bronckhorst's thunderous free-kick Wiltord hit the rebound straight at the prone 'keeper.
In response Arsenal introduced their talisman, Dennis Bergkamp; Schalke withdrew Möller. The changes stimulated Schalke first with Gerald Asamoah dipping a shot onto Seaman's bar. Wenger decided on a bolder move, bringing on Junichi Inamoto for his Arsenal debut. The Japanese press corps, who have faithfully attended every Arsenal game this season, got very excited.
They were not alone as Schalke pressed frantically for an equaliser but, to Arsenal's relief, it never came.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Lauren, Keown, Grimandi, Van Bronckhorst; Ljungberg, Parlour, Vieira, Pires (Inamoto, 75); Henry (Upson, 89), Wiltord (Bergkamp, 71). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Jeffers, Kanu, Stephanovs.
Schalke 04 (3-5-2): Reck; Hajto, Waldoch, Van Kerckhoven; Oude Kamphuis, Vermant (Asamoah, 53), Van Hoogdalem, Böhme (Mulder, 81); Möller (Djordjevic, 71); Mpenza, Agali. Substitutes not used: Grodas (gk), Matellan, Thon, Buskens.
Referee: C Colombo (France).Reuse content