It is no secret that when it comes to Champions League, England fall into the best quadrant of the competition. The country is generally represented by the top four clubs of the domestic league, although the past season witnessed a slight change in this ‘rule’ as Chelsea qualified as the title holders even after finishing a dismal sixth in the Premier League.
Moving on, last night, the first segment of the fourth gameweek of this term’s UCL was played and two of England’s representatives, namely Manchester City and Arsenal, took the field in a bid to possibly enhance their chances of securing a berth in the knockout-phase. What follows is CAFootball’s review of the how the two teams fared against their respective nemesis.
Manchester City 2-2 Ajax
Manchester City’s historic Premier League triumph only a few months ago looks more of a distant memory now. Although the Citizens are undefeated in the league, their streak is perhaps the most boring and lacklustre unbeaten run the football fans have might have witnessed over the past many years.
Added to that, the Champions League has offered no respite to Roberto Mancini’s men, who after their two-all draw last night, sit at the bottom of their group with a mere two points from their opening four games.
City’s atrocious defending in the first twenty minutes allowed Siem de Jong to net a stunning brace and give the visitors an upper hand at the ‘fortress’ named the Etihad Stadium. Yaya Toure, who was directly responsible for de Jong’s double strikes, halved the deficit in the 22nd minute, before Sergio Aguero brought the game back on level terms with a strike 16 minutes from time.
As impressive as their mini-comeback was, City still failed to muster their first win of this season’s Champions League and are now virtually out of the competition. They might have been denied a goal and a possible penalty late in the second half, but the team clearly lacked the competency and willingness to win three valuable points.
Their once rock-solid defence was in shambles against Ajax’s sizzling attack and the midfield lacked to generate the much-required creativity to assist the attackers up-front.
Many might also argue that the team lacks experience to ply trades in the elite European competition, however, it has to be said that most of their key stars like Toure, Tevez, Silva, Nasri, Kompany are proven international stars with enough exposure to produce the goods at the big stage.
Manager Roberto Mancini too is largely to be blamed for the team’s inability to get the right result. The Italian’s failure to get the tactics right and efficiently use the truckloads of talents available at his doorsteps has only added to the woes of the team.
In a must-win game played at home, it was shocking to see the former Inter Milan manager deploy three defensive midfielders who eventually struggled to make their marks on the game. Moreover, blaming the referees for the loss was only an embarrassing act by Mancini as it was only due to a mistake by the official that allowed City to obtain their only point of the competition before last night.
Like the 2011-12 season, Sheikh Mansour’s troops will now likely have to make do with the domestic silverwares as even though the team can still mathematically escape the group stage, the actual chances are as slim as Stewart Downing bagging a goal in the Premier League.
Schalke 04 2-2 Arsenal
Like their English counterparts Manchester City, Arsenal too failed to shrug off their recent poor form as they slumped to a two-all draw at Schalke. However, the solitary point could prove to be pivotal for the Gunners as they now sit second in Group B with seven points, one more than Greek giants Olympiacos.
Contract-rebel Theo Walcott gave Arsenal the lead with an easy tap-in and Olivier Giroud netted his first Champions League goal to double the team’s lead. Schalke managed to spring up an impressive comeback thereafter with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scoring just before the half-time and a Jefferson Farfan deflected shot in 67th minute put the hosts back into the game.
Although Arsene Wenger and Co. could be disappointed with the fact that they squandered a two-goal lead, they could perhaps note some worthy positives from the game.
Thomas Vermaelen fitted well into the left-back role and Wenger could now at least not play the error-prone Andre Santos in that role. Santos has been a massive liability for the Gunners this season as although he is traditionally a full-back, the Brazilian is still yet to learn the art of defending. The 29-year-old barely keeps hold of his marker and allows the opposition to easily exploit the team’s vulnerable left flank.
Moreover, Jack Wilshere continued his comeback from the lengthy-layoff with another composed display. Although the England international wasn’t up to his usual best, the 20-year-old did prove to be a strong performer for the team last night. However, he did show some signs of fatigue like his teammate Santi Cazorla and Wenger will do best by resting the two for the Gunners’ clash against Fulham over the weekend.
Not to forget that, as aforementioned, Arsenal are now above Olympiacos in the group standings. All they now need to do is defeat the already-eliminated Montpellier and get a result against Olympiacos when the two teams lock horns in the final matchweek. Things could even get easier if Olympiacos lose to Schalke almost a fortnight from now.