When the draw for this tie was made early December immediately after Swansea had beaten us 2-0 at the Emirates, nobody could see any other result for this game apart from a home win. A month is a long time in football. Going into this gaem, Arsenal were regarded as a favourite to win at even odds, on the back of a decent run of form in the past month. However, more realistic fans would have taken a draw before the match.
We were back at Las Mimosas bar, with more members back from their stays in the UK over the festive period. Cheryl was back in business, selling a scratch card at half time for the first time in 2013 to raise funds for our Supporters Club.
Arsene Wenger made it clear prior to the game that he would field a full-strength team and would not rotate his players for the sake of it. The decision was quite right as this was our only realistic chance to win silverware this season and Swansea are a difficult team to beat at home even though they were expected to rest their key players for this game with their sights set on the Capital One Cup semi-final match against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Wenger made three changes to the side that started in their 1-1 draw with Southampton on Tuesday night. Per Mertesacker, who was left on the bench midweek, came in for Thomas Vermaelen to form a central defensive partnership with Laurant Koscielny. Aaron Ramsey started in place of Lukas Podolski on the left wing. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave way to Theo Walcott on the right flank, whose starting place as a central striker was taken over by Olivier Giroud.
Prior to the game, Wenger also suggested that one or two players might need a breather, who we thought could be Bacary Sagna. The France international has had some poor games recently. As Carl Jenkinson proved himself as a reliable deputy right-back earlier this season, we thought it would be a good idea to give him a run-out in the Frenchman's place. However, the England right-back didn't even make the bench, whereas Andre Santos was on the bench as a back-up full-back despite his lack of match fitness. We don't understand Wenger's reluctance to play Jenkinson. The boss has just given the young player a long-term contract and doesn't use him when our regular right-back is clearly out of sorts.
As usual, Ramsey's start caused us a lot of displeasure. I, for one, still believe that he is a talented player, but playing a right-footed central midfielder on the left wing does not help the player already low in confidence. Why the Ox was left on the bench was a mystery. Another conundrum is Wenger's seeming reluctance to play Rosicky. Amid fans' fear that Cazorla could be burned out before the end of the season, Rosicky's healthy return should certainly ease those concerns.
The first half was quite boring, but the second half lived up to Arsenal's standards in terms of dramas. Arsenal stepped up their attack in the second half, but it was Swansea who opened the scoring. When we saw Michu coming off the bench, we all feared the consequence and he scored with almost his first touch. However, we had our own answer to their super sub in the shape of Poldi, who fired home an equaliser. Within three minutes, we were in front for the first time in this game thanks to Gibbs' brilliant volley. However, Arsenal being Arsenal, this wasn't the end of the story. They always like to put us supporters through more ups and downs than they need. Our joy was short-lived. Danny Graham scored an equaliser with four minutes left to take the tie into a replay at the Emirates.
Wenger's substitutions often mystify us. Podolski's introduction was spot-on. Probably this was always on the card. Arsenal were pouring their attack, but lacked decisiveness in the final ball. The Germany striker, whose finishing is second to none, provided exactly what the team needed. However, at 2-1 with just 7 minutes to go, why Wenger didn't bring on Vermaelen or Coquelin to shore up the defence was beyond us. Earlier this season, such as in the Wigan game, we questioned Wenger's negativity regarding substitutions, but this was a case where he should have made those substitutions. We could have held on to the narrow lead and won the game on the day.
Arsene Wenger bemoaned a penalty opportunity turned down. The interesting thing is that there are those people who think it should have been a penalty. To us at Las Momosas bar, replays on the TV seemed to have indicated that Ramsey fell over. (Well, these days he doesn't have much of the fans' sympathy, does he?) Most of the media seem to have thought the same with one report even claiming that Ramsey was tripped by his own foot. On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph's match report read "Arsenal had a genuine claim for a penalty in the 51st minute when Ramsey was clearly tripped as he fought to cut across Tiendalli." Needless to say, Arsenal.com's match report, as well as the Arsenal blog, shared the Telegraph's view.
It was frustrating because we could have won the tie on the day, considering how many chances we created in the second half. Was it a missed opportunity for Arsenal or Swansea? Swansea fans must have fancied themselves to go through, based on their perfect form at home this season. We would like to think that we have a good chance to progress now that the tie has gone to a replay at the Emirates. Playing at home does not guarantee a win as the result of the previous encounter between the two sides shows, but Swansea will have played more games than us with the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at home awaiting them in the following week.
At the end of the day, what matters is that we are still in the competition. Fixture congestion may prompt Wenger to bring in new players. Who knows. We look forward to the replay. Hopefully, a seaside trip to Championship side, Brighton, in the next round will motivate the players.
Between now and then, there is a small matter of a Premier League clash against Manchester City. We produced one of our best performances this season, when the two sides met at the Etihad Stadium. One of our outstanding players on that day was Abu Diaby, whose return to first team action is thought to be imminent. He may be still short of match fitness for this Sunday's game, but having produced an impressive display during his 65-minute appearance in Wednesday's U-21 match, signs are encouraging.
Made a great save to deny Graham's effort in the first half, but beaten twice.
He started the game brightly, but got worse later on.
Beaten in the air by Bartley. Unconvincing display.
Both centre backs were culpable for Michu's goal. Provided an assist for Poldi's goal.
Great going forward, scoring an exquisite goal, but was caught out of position at times.
Not eye-catching, but did get involved in attack.
Should he have done better to prevent Graham's equaliser? I personally think it was a very difficult situation for him on the-man-at-post duty. He couldn't make up his mind whether to leave the post and block the shot or at least deter Graham from shooting, or to stay at the post. Perhaps, Sagna should have picked up Graham. Overall, it was not his best defensive game.
Put a lot of efforts into the game.
His free-kicks and corners were poor.
Set up a goal for Gibbs through a brilliantly lofted pass, but his finishing left a lot to be desired. He should have at least put his header on target. Missed a couple of more chances as well.
He did some good things, including a great cross only for Giroud to head it wide, and got into great positions on several occasions, but he still lacks composure in front of goal. On the BBC site, ex-Gunner, John Hartson suggested Ramsey would benefit from a loan spell. His reasoning was based on the Wales national team's point of view as he thinks that Ramsey needs to play in central midfield, where he cannot get a chance at Arsenal due to competition. We agree that sending him out on loan would be beneficial for him to get back into the form he was in prior to the horrific injury and to fulfil his potential. On the other hand, from Arsenal's viewpoint, the lack of the depth in the squad does not allow us to loan him out as he can be used as a utility player. If we can get a natural wide player and a defensive midfielder in the January transfer window, this predicament could be solved.
Replaced Ramsey in the 73rd minute. Scored a poacher's goal.