Monday, November 10, 2014

Swansea 2 Arsenal 1

After their surrender of a 3-0 lead midweek, we hoped that our beloved club would have regrouped themselves by this game only to be disappointed with their inability to hold onto the lead again and defensive fragility.

Arsene Wenger only made a forced change from the side that started in the disheartening 3-3 draw with Anderlecht at the Emirates on Tuesday night. Mathieu Flamini came in for Mikel Arteta, who suffered a grade-one hamstring strain during the midweek game. Theo Walcott continued to start from the bench, alongside the young keeper Emi Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo and Jack Wilshere, who had recovered from illness which ruled him out of Tuesday's clash with Anderlecht. It is a baffling question why Yaya Sanogo, who still has no goals to his name apart from his 4 goals in a pre-season friendly against Benfica, comes ahead of Joel Campbell in the pecking order.

While we have been without a few key players, Swansea had their own injury problems in addition to the suspension of Jonjo Shelvey. Without the pacey wingers in Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge, combined with injury to their first-choice centre-back, we felt that this could be our lucky day. However, they grew in confidence as Arsenal took a cautious approach at the beginning of the first half. The first half was a fairly even affair, although Arsenal finished it strongly, starting to look more threatening going forward.

Arsenal continued where they left at the end of the first half, and Arsenal's pressure finally told in the 64th minute, when the Ox broke at pace on the right flank, did very well to stay on his feet, and found Danny Welbeck who cut back inside and picked out Alexis, who made no mistake to slot it home. However, in the 75th minute, Wojciech Szczesny couldn't do anything about Sigurdsson's sublime free-kick. Now Swansea had a momentum behind them and Arsenal were losing midfield battles. In the 78th minute, Calum Chambers, who had been struggling against Montero all afternoon, was beaten again, letting him deliver a cross to Gomis, who rose higher than Nacho Monreal to beat Szczesny.

Once again, Arenal's defensive solidity was questioned as well as tactical awareness. It's easy to say that this has happened to Arsenal time and again, but last season, we were fairly solid in such cases. The best example was the Napoli game at home. Arsenal outplayed the Serie A side throughout the first half with attacking flair, but they shut the shop in the second half and concentrated on keeping a clean sheet. The two league north London derbies last season were another example. After an early goal, Arsenal defended resolutely against Tottenham's waves of attack. Sometimes the team seemed to have made their own decisions to shut the shop, while on other occasions, Wenger sent Vermaelen and Monreal/Jenkinson on the pitch to shore up the defence and see out a victory for the last 10 to 15 minutes. We have no such  luxury this season with our lack of defensive cover.  OK, we were a bit unlucky on the injury front as we lost Mathieu Debuchy as early as early September to a long-term injury. But starting the season with just 7 defenders in 4 positions was a madness rather than a gamble if we were to compete on 3 different fronts (4 if you included the Capital One Cup). Not signing a centre-back cover upon the departure of Vermaelen is expected to come back to haunt us again this season, considering the chronic nature of Koscielny's Achilles injury.

In the post-match interview, asked about the timing of substitutions, Wenger defended his decision not to bring on any substitutions until 80th minutes by stating that he had no experienced player on the bench, after admitting that he had recognised their struggle on the right side. If Wenger doesn't trust Hector Bellerin, then why did he send Carl Jenkinson on loan? Bellerin may lack experience and defensive edge, but at least he has been playing as a right-back at the U-21 level for some while. Besides, the 19-year-old Spaniard has great pace, which saw him break Theo Walcott's club sprint record. He definitely deserves more chances rather than playing Chambers (watching his games in both roles, by now we know he is more of a CB rather a RB) and Monreal out of position repeatedly and hoping for the best.

Another position in which we desperately need reinforcement is a defensive midfielder. We, the fans, were crying out for the signing of a defensive midfielder all through the summer, but Wenger did nothing about it. After the match, he admitted that losing some challenges in the middle of the park (but not necessarily at the fault of midfielders, but defenders' and strikers', he added) allowed Swansea to get back into the game. If we had a physically strong defensive midfielder who likes to defend, this wouldn't have happened. Now that we have great pace collectively up front, it would be a great situation if we had such a defensive midfielder to break up opponents' attacks and turn them into quick counter-attacks. All in all, we think that the current shambles in our defence has stemmed from Wenger's stubborn refusal to attach more importance to the defensive side of the game.

It was a further demoralising end to Arsenal's dismal week. Manuel Pellegrini, whose side has also been on a bad patch, has welcomed the international break, but we could also do with a rest. Let's hope our players will come back from international duty in 2 weeks time healthy and hopefully confident, while the other who will stay at Club will have a refreshing week and then return to training with renewed focus because we have two tough home games against Manchester United and Dortmund coming up after the international break.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
Was helpless to save Swansea's two goals.

Chambers: 5
Had a torrid time against Montero and Taylor. He was beaten too easily. 

Mertesacker: 6
He helped Chambers when he could, but still beaten.

Monreal: 5
Lost aerial battle against Gomis for the goal, but he is not a natural centre-back with no physical attribute for it either.

Gibbs: 6
He was caught out in Swansea's counter-attack and had no choice but to foul Barrow. The subsequent free-kick triggered Swansea's come-back.

Flamini: 6
Worked hard, but some of his tackles were perhaps lucky not to be punished. Shown a yellow card.

Ramsey: 5

We expected a spirited performance from a Cardiff boy in his personal South Wales derby, which came after he reportedly received criticism from Wenger on his recent performances, but we were disappointed with his lukewarm display on this day. That said, he had our best effort in the first half as his volley went tantalisingly close. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Our best player in this game. He posed a threat every time he had the ball, but gave it away too often. His passing accuracy of 75.7% left much to be desired. He was great going forward, but he should have helped Chambers more.

Alexis: 7

Clinical finish, but not his best game as Wenger stated. He lost the ball too often, illustrated by his passing success rate of a meagre 70.7%.

Cazorla: 5
Yet to hit his best form

Welbeck: 6
Unlucky not to score when he hit the target only to be denied by Fabianski's superb reflex save. Made a few wrong decisions on the final balls. Provided an assist for Alexis' goal.


Wilshere: 6
Replaced Flamini in the 80th minute as Arsenal chase an equaliser. Little impact. 

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench in the 80th minute for Ramsey. Had a half-chance when he was released behind the defenders, but failed to control the ball. 

Sanogo: 5
Replaced Chambers in the 90th minute. Don't understand why he is ahead of Campbell 

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