Arsenal suffered from everything but loneliness. With this miserable display against a confident Schalke they became companions in woe this week with Chelsea and Manchester City, the other English clubs beaten in the Champions League. Even a victorious Manchester United had to mount a stirring comeback at Old Trafford to beat Braga.

That larger context will carry little relevance for Arsenal when the club brood over their inadequacies in this 2-0 defeat. Harsh as it is to pick out one player, André Santos was an obvious target for Schalke. The left-back's limitations were exposed for the second goal in the 86th minute when Jefferson Farfán eluded him and set up Ibrahim Afellay's goal with a low pass.

Ten minutes earlier Afellay's header from an Atsuto Uchida cross had teed up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to break the deadlock with a crashing shot. The goal must have brought as much relief as joy since Schalke would have dreaded seeing their superiority count for nothing.

In the end they were to revel in this occasion. Arsenal have made several changes to their squad. The real break with the past cannot come, however, with just some new faces in the team photograph. Prior to the interval they dominated yet found it hard to make a clear opening. That proved to be a hint to the course this fixture would take.

There were opportunities from an early stage but composure was scarce. When Lukas Podolski picked out Gervinho with a low ball from the left in the 10th minute, the centre-forward fired off target.

Trepidation was much more common in Arsenal's half. The referee, Jonas Eriksson, opted for a yellow card rather than a penalty when Affelay was put clear by Farfán and went down as the Arsenal goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, closed in on him.

There was a misleading air of underachievement at that stage and even Huntelaar was unable to rise above it when he missed the target after Uchida picked him out in the 43rd minute. Arsenal, for their part, were tentative and subdued throughout.

Arsène Wenger's side will have to develop their identity before they can make an impact. Despite the seven and a half seasons without a trophy, curiosity, if not anticipation, ensures that large numbers still go through the Arsenal turnstiles. Followers of the club would be delighted if a bolstering of the squad in defence, midfield and attack led at last to a more capable line-up.

That outcome does not look imminent while the team is to be found in the middle of the Premier League table. In the trophyless years since the FA Cup was won in 2005 Arsenal have intermittently suggested that they were close to real achievement. With 10 men, following the red card for the goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, they still led until Barcelona overtook them in the last quarter-hour of the 2006 Champions League final.

The lasting poignancy of that occasion does not necessarily rest with the outcome. A fan could focus instead on the fact that the present line-up is far from the standard of the one who lost at the Stade de France six years ago. Encouragement can only come if the new batch is added to in January or next summer. At least Wenger has not been fixated with the nurturing of fresh but callow talent.

There has instead been a quiet search for seasoned professionals, with Santi Cazorla an obvious example given his years in La Liga. All the same, knowhow was not brought to bear readily against a competitive Bundesliga side who included Lewis Holtby operating just behind Huntelaar. Holtby, the son of an Everton-supporting Liverpudlian, was born in the Mönchengladbach area and has been capped for Germany.

The tempo set by the hosts was much higher at the beginning of the second half but hardly sufficed to nullify opponents who had a greater appetite for the battle.

Schalke had an outstanding opportunity to score after Farfán got free of André Santos but saw his cut-back fired high by Benedikt Höwedes, the captain and centre-back. Considering that Schalke were the visitors, the boldness they displayed disconcerted their opponents all the more.

The goalless condition of the fixture up to that point remained a puzzle. Arsenal had three attackers when in possession, but invention was too often lacking in the service they received. There was a glimpse of danger for Schalke, when Gervinho's low delivery from the left raced slightly too far in front of Podolski. Ultimately it was Huub Stevens's men who brought down havoc on Arsenal.