Monday, March 18, 2013

Swansea 0 Arsenal 2

On Saturday, two teams known for their similar style of play met for the fourth time this season. In the first encounter of the season at the Emirates, the Welsh club left us shocked, scoring two late goals in quick counter-attacks and taking all three points. However, since then, we had nearly beaten them on their home soil, where Manchester United and Chelsea both dropped points, in the third round of the FA Cup, and we outplayed them in all departments in the replay at the Emirates.

Nobody knew what kind of mood Swansea would be in, going into this game, after they won the Capital One Cup three weeks ago, securing their place in Europe next season, and  pretty well safe from relegation. It was equally difficult to predict how much the midweek exertions had affected Arsene Wenger's side. On the other hand, we were hoping that the impressive win on Wednesday night would give them much-needed confidence to carry them through the rest of the season. In fact, Michael Laudrup revealed his gameplan that if his side managed to hold Arsenal early on, the north London club would get tired and his side could beat them in the second half.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in the midweek win over Bayern Munich. We were hoping that he would keep the same back five on the back of their solid defensive display against the German giants, but the reported recurrence of  Gibbs' thigh strain looked set to leave the English left-back out of the squad. As it turned out, Gibbs made the bench and he came on as an 85th-minute sub, which was an encouraging sign of his fitness. In any case, we never doubted that Nacho Monreal would be a more than capable deputy and our confidence in him was backed up by his performance in this game. Now Arsene Wenger has two competent left-backs to chose from.

Bacary Sagna was yet to recover from his injury, which made Wenger's selection for a right-back position easier. Vermaelen continued his life on the bench, while Szczesny also made the bench. Prior to the game, Wenger defended his decision to have left out the two regular starters against Bayern Munich, claiming they still play vital roles in the team. Jack Wilshere has been ruled out until April, according to the media report, although Wenger previously hoped that the England international would only miss out on one Premier League game.

Another conspicuous absentee was Lukas Podolski, whose future has been a talking point among the fans. The German international declared his return to full fitness on the matchday, 16 March, and tweeted on Sunday that he was glad to be back in the German squad. As we mentioned in the last post, Juventus and Atletico Madrid are reportedly prepared to offer £15 million for the German striker as he seems to have fallen out of favour with Arsene Wenger. If he plays for Germany and he doesn't feature in the Reading game in two weeks' time, unless he gets injured during the international break, it will cast a serious question on his future at Arsenal. He is Arsenal's most clinical finisher and has provided joint top assists in the Premier League. We fear that Arsenal may not be able to resist the temptation of selling him for profits in the region £4 million (based on a reported transfer fee of £11 million) in just one year.

Elsewhere, Abou Diaby replaced Aaron Ramsey from Wednesday night, while Santi Cazorla moved back to a central attacking midfielder role, which was vacated by Tomas Rosicky. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the left wing.

Wenger's substitution decisions have caused our displeasure a number of times this season, but the one he made in this game proved to be spot on and crucial. In the 70th minutes (regular as clockwork), the Frenchman brought on two pairs of fresh legs in the shape of Gervinho and Ramsey, both of whom have many critics among fans. Their introductions were met by groans at the Las Mimosas bar. Especially, the substitutions came when the Ox was demonstrating his strength, i.e., shooting from range, going close to score twice only to be denied by the woodwork. However, the two substitutes injected energy and impetus going forward and produced a late goal to seal a victory with two of them combining. We have to say that the Ivorian's resurgence was somewhat expected from his good work on Wednesday night.

It was a strange game. Some papers described the win as "comfortable", while others claimed that it was anything but convincing. Stats are of no help for that matter, painting a mixed picture open to interpretations. Swansea dominated with 57% of overall possession. They outpassed us with 619 passes vis-à-vis our 454, with an 88% passing success rate against our 84%. However, one can argue that they didn't make most of their possession and passes, as they only had nine shots in total with no shots on target, in comparison with our 16 shots in total with six on target.

In our view, Arsenal controlled the majority of the game, especially most of the second half. With our defence looking composed, we didn't look like we were going to concede, which left it only a matter of our capability to score a goal. Arsene Wenger and Michael Laudrup both agreed that in this kind of game, a first goal would be decisive. And we got it in the 74th minute through Nacho's shot, which was described as a "scuffed" attempt by many, but we didn't agree. The goal was set up by Olivier Giroud. According to some match reports, after Santi had "squared the ball for Giroud", Giroud "nudged" the ball for Nacho. In our opinion, the French striker did his best to mess up Santi's pass which was intended for Ramsey waiting at the far post unmarked. After the goal, Swansea had to come out in their attempt to find an equaliser, which pushed their defence line high up, leaving space behind them. Giroud spotted Ramsey on the right flank ahead of him. After collecting a pass from the Frenchman, Ramsey found himself in a two-on-one situation and squared the ball to Gervinho. The pass was not perfect, falling behind the Ivorian, but Gervinho managed to check and slotted past Michel Vorm with a great composure, which has been found wanting for some time.

It was vital three points after Everton beat Mancester City earlier on the day and leapfrogged us temporarily. We showed great spirit, in particular, in the last 20 minutes. Our defence looked solid throughout the game, even when Swansea showed some attacking intent in the first half. Fabianski was well protected by the back four, who prevented Swansea's shots on target by doing their best to block or deter them. Another clean sheet in four days against another strong attacking side should further boost the team's confidence. Many thought this was our toughest fixture, apart from the Man U match, so coming away with all three points from South Wales definately helped Arsenal's successful run-in.

After Tottenham's slip-up on Sunday, fouth place suddenly looked more achievable. We are now trailing the north London rivals by four points with a game in hand. Hopefully, all the players who go away on their international duty will come back unscathed and others can get a good rest before they focus on the clash with Reading in two weeks' time. Keep fingers crossed that we can keep the momentum and a good run of form after the international break.

Player ratings

Fabianski: 7 
With Swansea registering no shots on target, he had little to do. Apart from one occassion, in which we were surprised that he didn't come out to claim the ball, he looked commanding.

Jenkinson: 7
Apart from one school-boy error, in which he gave away the ball in his attempt to make a pass across the face of the box, he looked solid.

Mertesacker: 7
Solid. Seems to be much better with Koscielny.
Koscielny: 7
Worked hard and made some crucial challenges.

Monreal: 7
He grew into the game and scored a key goal.

Diaby: 6
After having a nightmare in the first half, his game improved dramatically in the second half. He was more direct and used his bursting runs well. He just needs to have a good run of games without getting injured. 

Arteta: 6 
His passing success rate was right up there on this day with 92%, but he still committed a meaningless foul and received a yellow card.

Cazorla: 8
Outstanding. 41% of voters on's Opinion Poll shared the same view with us that he was the Man of the Match. Nacho was the runner-up with 18% of votes, followed by the Ox's 14%.
Walcott: 6
We expected more from the birthday boy.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
He was most likely to score in the first half, hitting the woodwork twice.

Giroud: 6
Battled well against Ashley Williams, a Swansea defender who has been linked with Arsenal in recent weeks.


Gervinho: 7
Made a great impact again when he came on in the 70th minute for the Ox. Scored a stoppage time goal.

Ramsey: 7
The other one of the double substitution in the 70th minute, replacing Diaby in his favourite central midfield position. Assisted a goal for Gervinho.

Gibbs: 6
85th-minute substitute for Walcott.

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