Following victory in London two weeks ago Schalke can all but confirm their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League by repeating that success at home to Arsenal on Tuesday (7.45pm, live on Sky Sports).
A 2-0 victory at the Emirates saw Schalke move onto seven points, displacing Arsenal (six points) at the top of the group. Olympiakos are third with three points, while French champions Montpellier prop up the group with just a solitary point to their name.
Schalke were highly impressive in the first match between the sides, although that should not have been particularly surprising as the result came in the midst of a five-match winning run for the Gelsenkirchen based club.
That run was ended by a 3-2 defeat away to Hoffenheim on Saturday, but Schalke are still currently second in the Bundesliga, albeit seven points removed from runaway leaders Bayern Munich. They have won five of their seven home matches so far this season.
Schalke are likely to utilise similar tactics on Tuesday to those that brought them victory two weeks ago, with experienced coach Huub Stevens all but certain to stick to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Two disciplined defensive midfielders hold position, allowing the full-backs to get forward in support of an excellent front four featuring pace, power and trickery.
The German side got a lot of joy attacking Arsenal’s left in the first match, with their right sided pairing of lightning quick winger Jefferson Farfan and industrious full-back Atsuto Uchida consistently able to get in behind the Arsenal defence. Farfan provided the low cross tapped home by Ibrahim Afellay for the second, decisive goal four minutes from time after the pair had already laid on glorious chances missed by Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Benedikt Howedes.
The prolific Huntelaar had a quiet match, but after missing that early opportunity made no such mistake when a second chance came his way, clinically finishing on the half-volley for the opening goal following hesitancy in the Arsenal defence.
There will be a change of personnel in midfield for Schalke on Tuesday, with the injured Marco Hoger likely to be replaced by Jermaine Jones, but it is probable their line-up will otherwise be unchanged from that which took to the field at the Emirates.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are likely to make at least three changes. Full-back Bakari Sagna has recovered from injury to replace Carl Jenkinson. Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott will replace the injured Gervinho, while Jack Wiltshire will also be pushing for a start, possibly demoting Francis Coquelin to the bench despite his good performance in the first match.
Arsene Wenger’s side were beaten 2-1 by Manchester United at the weekend, a third defeat in their last five matches. Excepting their miraculous 7-5 victory away to Reading in the Capital One Cup, Arsenal have scored just twice in their last four matches, pointing to serious difficulties replacing the 30 goals the now-departed Robin Van Persie provided last season.
Santi Cazorla aside, Arsenal did not function well as an offensive unit in the first match against Schalke. Aaron Ramsey offered little in his narrow right sided role. Lukas Podolski was virtually anonymous on the left. For all his hard work, Gervinho lacked the necessary quality to take advantage on the couple of occasions he got into good positions behind the Schalke defence.
If Schalke have one clear weakness it is their lack of pace in the centre of defence, something that Wenger could well look to exploit by bringing Walcott into the starting eleven on Tuesday. Walcott has pace in abundance and should be high on confidence after scoring a hat-trick in that victory over Reading.
Wenger, though, is likely to be more concerned about his own side’s defensive deficiencies. His central defenders were all over the place for the first goal two weeks ago, while Andre Santos performed woefully as a replacement for the injured Kieran Gibbs at left-back. He was beaten all ends up by Farfan, lacking the necessary pace, positional sense or concentration to deal with the direct running and clever movement of the Schalke winger.
Santos was, however, offered little protection by Podolski, who made no effort to track the forward runs of Uchida, thus leaving Santos outnumbered almost every time Schalke attacked. Podolski will have to put more effort into his defensive work if Arsenal are to avoid another defeat. Indeed, Wenger may be tempted to employ the more defensively aware Cazorla on the left, moving Podolski into the central striker position and bringing in Walcott on the right.
Schalke vs Arsenal Betting Tips Verdict
Schalke were the clear, deserved victors when these sides met at the Emirates and little has happened in the intervening two weeks to suggest they will not be able to repeat that result at the Veltins Arena.
Arsenal are functioning poorly in attack and look vulnerable defensively. Schalke do lack pace in the centre of their defence but they have enough offensive thrust to suggest they could outscore their opponents and emerge victorious even if Arsenal did capitalise on this deficiency.