Wenger worried by Arsenal slump with hopes of revival hit by Walcott illness

ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger admits his side’s slump in form is worrying him but has challenged the Gunners to summon a change in fortunes in their hardest Champions League fixture so far this season.

Wenger’s men face Schalke tonight having lost three of their last five Premier League games and after needing a comeback of Biblical proportions to squeeze past Reading in the Capital One Cup last week.

Their latest defeat was Saturday’s 2-1 surrender at Manchester United, where the scoreline did no justice to the hosts’ dominance, while they also lost at home to this evening’s opponents a fortnight ago.

“It is a concern because we had a very promising start and of course we have gone through a difficult spell,” said Wenger. “We want to respond to that and rectify that very quickly because it is not only the fact we lost the [United] game but the way we lost it.”

Schalke’s win in north London was only Arsenal’s second home defeat in 45 home Champions League group games but means they need three points from the Veltins-Arena in order to boost their chances of finishing top.

“In terms of the group, the fact that we lost against Schalke means it is important that we win and finish the job well,” Wenger added. “We are still in a strong position in this group but of course we want to come out with a good result.”

Contract rebel forward Theo Walcott is a doubt with illness and midfielder Aaron Ramsey is out with a groin strain suffered at Old Trafford, but Wenger said fit-again Jack Wilshere was likely to start.

“I think I will play him tomorrow,” said Wenger. “Then we have a block of three games [Wilshere’s suspension] and maybe the fact that he gets a period of recovering will be just right for him. He gets better in every game.”

Wenger was criticised for not substituting Wilshere before the combative midfielder collected a second yellow card at United, but noted wryly yesterday that even opposite number Sir Alex Ferguson had offered sympathy. “I think the sending off was very harsh,” the Frenchman said. “Even Ferguson after the game thought he didn’t deserve to be sent off. He’s usually a good referee.”

PRE-MATCH POINTERS

■ Arsenal have their work cut out if they are to end their recent troubles at Schalke, where the German side are unbeaten in their last 12 Champions League fixtures

■ History does not bode well for the Gunners either, with Schalke winning 3-1 on the only previous occasion the teams have met in Gelsenkirchen

■ Arsenal are not in great form on the road in Europe, with the 2-1 win at Montpellier in September only their third in 13 away matches in the competition proper

■ The Germans are looking to bounce back themselves, having seen their eight-match unbeaten run ended on Saturday with a 3-2 defeat to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga

■ Schalke’s 2-0 victory two weeks ago made them the first foreign outfit to win at Arsenal in the Champions League since Inter Milan in 2003

■ Arsenal managed just one shot on target in the defeat to Schalke, and have just 12 from three group games – a joint lowest total shared with CFR Cluj and Anderlecht