Friday, January 18, 2013

Arsenal 1 Swansea 0 (FA Cup 3rd Round replay)

While empty seats at the Emirates attracted the media attention, the Arsenal end of Las Mimosas bar was packed on a cold (but not as cold as at the Emirates obviously) and windy Wednesday night. There were even a weather-defying group of Scandinavians outside in a tent, cheering at their national handball teams in front of a large-screen TV. Actually, an estimated turnout of 50,000 (as opposed to official ticket sales of 58,359) at the Emirates is considered respectable for a midweek FA Cup replay on a cold winter night. The media always like to put a negative spin on anything when things are concerned with Arsenal.

As has been the case this season, we didn't know how this game would pan out. Even ever-optimistic Cheryl admitted the day before that she was convinced that we would be beaten by Swansea. That epitomised the mood of the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club after the disappointing defeat to Manchester City.

Wenger made three changes to his side who started in a 2-0 loss to the reigning champions. As Laurant Koscielny was suspended as a result of his sending-off in that game, Per Mertesacker started alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin came in for Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, which meant Santi Cazorla moved to the left wing, while Jack Wilshere took a more advanced position in the Spaniard's place. Francis Coquelin was deployed in a deep-lying role, which is usually taken by currently sidelined Mikel Arteta. Midfield looked better balanced than in the Man City game.

Arsenal started the game brightly. Giroud went close to score twice. They looked like they had learned lessons from the Man City game, but then the tempo slowed down and Swansea had better chances. However, it was Arsenal, specifically Vermaelen, who had the best chance at the end of the first half.

The second half was one-way traffic. Arsenal mounted pressure on Swansea defence. As the boss said after the match, it was unbelievable how we managed not to score a goal. The stats show that we had 27 shots in total, of which 10 shots were on target with 10 shots off target and 7 shots blocked. Although our profligacy was partly to blame (the main culprits were Walcott and Giroud), Swansea deserved credit for their resolute defence. They packed the box with bodies, hoping to attack on the break. Two shots were cleared off the line. We were also unlucky, with Giroud's shot blocked by Wilshere on the line.

When we started conceding that extra time was inevitable, Jack Wilshere brilliantly volleyed home. His shot was our 26th attempt at goal. However, we still had a job to do. At this point in the initial tie, there was still time for Swansea to equalise. After Cazorla's wild shot, Arsenal seemed to have taken the game under control again thanks to Jack Wilshere's leadership. In fact, he was magnificent all night.

It was a great win, which saw us through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. It was also great to show that we can beat Swansea by playing our own game. The Welsh club started becoming our bogey team and the most annoying thing was they outplayed us in our passing game on a couple of occasions. It was satisfactory that we stopped Swansea from playing their football by playing our game. The intensity of our attack forced Swansea to focus on defence entirely. When Michu came on the pitch, we didn't even worry about its implication this time around. In fact, he was forced to help out their defence with little to do offensively.

A trip to championship side, Brighton, awaits us in 10 day's time, but before that, we have two important league games. This weekend's clash with third-placed Chelsea was a virtual six-pointer. The West Ham match on Wednesday night is our game in hand, which offers a chance to close a gap to those clubs currently in Champions League places. Hopefully, the players will show the same determination to win in these games.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 6
As Swansea registered no shot on target, he had little to do, especially in the second half. Despite being a bystander for most of the second half, he stayed alert when Sung-Yeung Ki tried to catch him out. There is an argument as to who was to blame for allowing Kyle Bartley's header, which fortunately hit the bar. We think that Szczesny should have come forward and claim the ball.

Sagna: 7
Made himself always available. Looked more confident than recently, but his crossing left a lot to be desired.

Mertesacker: 7
His passing was indecisive at early stages of the game.

Vermaelen: 7
Made two crucial blocks. Went forward more often and nearly scored at the end of the first half.

Gibbs: 7
Good going forward especially in this game as he didn't have much to worry about defensively.

Diaby: 6
He seemed to have struggled to keep up with the pace of the game in the first half, slowing down our passing. He was good in winning back possession, but his passing afterwards let him down. Still, another 82 minutes (Wenger admitted after the match that he should probably have taken him off a bit earlier) under the belt is encouraging.

Wilshere: 10
Simply awesome. He had a great game offensively and defensively. This game showcased everything good about him: technical abilities, drive, physical strength, passion, tenacity, and leadership (have I missed anything?). Arguably his best performance since his return from the injury, if not in his entire career. We don't usually give 10 in our player ratings, but he merits it on this occasion as he even did what his team-mates couldn't do all night, which is scoring a goal.

Coquelin: 7
Replacing Arteta was a huge challenge for the 21-year-old, but he did a decent job. He took his shot well when the rebound from a corner fell in front of him.

Cazorla: 7
It was interesting to see how he fared on the left wing for the first time for Arsenal as apparently he was a winger before he joined Arsenal. He wasn't spectacular, but did create chances.

Walcott: 7
Lacked accuracy in his finishing.

Giroud: 7
He was involved in all attacking moves, in one of which he set up a goal for Wilshere. He works for the team, but he needs to improve his finishing, which is poor for a main striker.


Ramsey: 6
Replaced Diaby in the 82nd minutes and carried on where the France midfielder left off.

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