Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arsenal 2 Swansea 2

It was a such a disappointing night for Arsenal. This was our game in hand over Chelsea. A victory would have seen us narrow the gap to the current league leaders to four points. Arsenal had to turn up with a strong performance in order to reply to their meek display at Stamford Bridge. But we didn't mind if they had won it ugly or unconvincingly. All that mattered was three points.

After going down 1-0 early in the first half and being frustrated for more than 70 minutes, Arsenal equalised and then went ahead within 66 seconds. We thought we got the three points in the bag. This season, when Arsenal took a lead in the latter stages of the second half, they tend to shut up shop and protect the lead. They have ground out the result in this way so many times this season. Although Arsenal's defensive confidence was shattered on Saturday, we were fairly confident that the Gunners would see out the victory after they took the lead in 74th minute. Then, at the end of normal time, something incredibly unlucky happened. OK, Arsenal let Leon Britten burst through, which they shouldn't have, but the following sequence of events were just so unfortunate. Mertesacker took the ball off Britten, whose touch was too heavy, and then Szczesny tried to clear the ball with his feet. Then the ball hit the shin of onrushing Flamini, who came to help clear the danger, and the ball went into the empty goal. It was such a heartbreaking end to the difficult game. When we thought we had cleared the possibly last danger of the night with Mertesacker's tackle and Szczesny's block, we threw away a win.

Prior to the match, Wenger suggested that he would make several changes to his side as the game came only three days after the tough game at Chelsea and ahead of Saturday's massive clash with Manchester City. The media also reported that Giroud, Arteta, and Szczesny would be dropped to the bench. A section of fans were also hoping for as many changes as possible after the disastrous Chelsea game. We expected the Ox to have a breather and Gnabry to start instead after the German youngster's stellar performance and his first senior goal against Swansea earlier this season. As it happened, the boss made only two changes. One of them was a forced change as Koscielny suffered a calf injury during the Chelsea game. The club captain Thomas Vermaelen replaced him in the central defence. Lukas Podolski was dropped to the bench, while Mathieu Flamini got the nod for this game to slot into the central midfield next to Mikel Arteta. As a result, the Ox moved to the right wing. After the match, Wenger explained his team selection by stating that he relied on experienced players in such a difficult time under so much pressure. Hector Bellerin was named in the squad as we have no fit first-team defenders with Monreal and Koscielny both sidelined, but ended the game as an unused sub.

The injury crisis further deepened this week after Koscielny's injury, which was initially thought to be a minor calf problem. Now he is likely to miss a few games, most certainly against Man City and Everton and possibly the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan, as Wenger described the length of his lay-off as "for a while". Wenger reckons that it will be at least two or three weeks before Mesut Ozil returns. The closest to return of the three is Aaron Ramsey, who had a further set-back that is expected to keep him on the sidelines for another two weeks. Our injury situation is scandalous. All the injuries have turned out longer than the prognosis and most of those injuries are muscular problems. There is something seriously wrong with Arsenal's physio team.

As for the match, Arsenal were too predictable and looked tired and static at times. When they showed some mobility, moves were intricate in and around the edge of the box and it was so easy for a Swansea side to defend. Many were expecting or hoping for an entertaining game because of both sides' style of play. Swansea boast highest possession in the league at an average of 59.3% and a joint-highest pass accuracy of 86.1% alongside Man City. In contrast to their renowned style of positive passing football, Gary Monk set up his side for sitting deep, letting Arsenal keep the ball possession and attacking on the break. The young player-manager who has no coaching experience did his homework very well. Meanwhile, our seasoned coach, who has just celebrated his 1000th game, stuck to his philosophy of possession and passing football. It was a surprise as we thought he would put his priority on restoring the defensive solidity. Fielding Flamini next to Arteta might be the testament to that intention, but our defence was far too vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Swansea didn't even try to press us. We were allowed time and space in midfield. It looked a lot easier than against Chelsea or Bayern who pressed us hard, but we couldn't make most of our freedom. In the second half, Arsenal looked more purposeful. Gibbs started to play like a winger, bombing down the left flank. Upon Podolski's introduction on the left wing, the England left-back's attacking effort had finally borne fruit in setting up the German striker's goal, after making a fantastic run through the box. Poldi turned a provider 66 seconds later by delivering a low cross for Giroud to slot it home at near post. But our second goal was a cue for Swansea to pour forward. Wenger brought on a January signing, Kim Kallstrom, to shore up the defence on 79 minutes and Giroud was replaced by Sanogo. It looked like we were heading for the victory and at the end of normal time, we were denied the win.

The result was very disappointing, but there are some positives. After going down 1-0 so early, they managed to come back and turn the game around. The team showed their fighting spirit in the second half, pressing the Swansea players hard. Scoring 2 goals are another positive since we haven't managed more than one goal since the FA Cup against Everton earlier this month.

Things change very quickly in football. After the triumph in the north London derby 10 days ago, we thought we had nailed the Champions League qualification. Now, a loss and a draw later, we suddenly started to worry about finishing in top four as fifth-placed Everton narrowed the gap to us to 6 points with a game in hand after their fourth consecutive league win in midweek. Even most optimistic Arsenal fans do not expect anything out of the Man City game, but hopefully our team will stand firm against one of title contenders this time around. Another crashing defeat could have a profound effect on the team's performance for the remainder of the season. If we can come through this game with our heads held high regardless of the result, it will set up a positive mindset going into the Everton game, which could draw a conclusion to the top-four finish debate.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
He could have done anything about the first goal. However, he could probably have done better against Swansea's second goal if he had judged the situation better.

Sagna: 6
His crossing was poor.

Mertesacker: 7
Unlucky not to score with a header from a corner.

Vermaelen: 7
He was out-jumped and out-powered by Bony for Swansea's first goal.

Gibbs: 8
Arguably Arsenal's man of the match. He was excellent going forward. Made 5 tackles and 4 interceptions, showing his grit.

Areta: 6
Failed to close down on Taylor, who was allowed a long uninterrupted run down their left flank and delivered a perfect cross for Bony. Made 95 passes with a 92% passing success rate.

Flamini: 6
His own goal was a freak accident, but he was partly guilty by failing to track Britten's run in the first place.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Unlucky not to score with a skillful shot early in the game, which forced a superb save from Vorm. He gave away the ball too often for our liking. His passing success rate of 69% is extremely poor, considering the fact that we were not even under pressure. Replaced in the 57th minute.

Cazorla: 7
Made 4 key passes and had 1 great shot on target. Unlucky not to score.

Rosicky: 7
At heart of creativity. Created 3 chances. We couldn't envisage that Rosicky would start two games in four days. It just goes to show how our injury situation is desperate. Hope limited rotation will not deteriorate the situation 
further .

Giroud: 7
Had a few good moments in the first half and scored a goal. 


Podolski: 8
Replaced the Ox in the 57th minute. It was an awkward angle and height, but he took his goal very well. Then made a great run on the left flank and delivered a perfect cross for Giroud.

Kallstrom: 6
Made his debut for the club in the 79th minute to replace Rosicky in an attempt to shore up the defence. Made 2 good tackles and 2 passes with a not-so-impressive 71% passing success rate. 

Sanogo: 5
Replaced Giroud in the 88th minute. Little time to make an impact.

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