Thursday, May 14, 2015

Arsenal 0 Swansea 1

Arsenal's aspiration for a top-two finish was dealt a blow as the north London club suffered the first defeat in their last 10 games in the Premier League. We are no longer in the driving seat in the race for second place, a highest finish in a decade, as second-placed Manchester City extended their advantage on goal difference as well as on points a day earlier courtesy of the atrocious QPR defence. However, what disheartened us most was our team's dismal performance rather than the result or its implications. It was only 7 days ago that we were impressed with the best of their attacking football and some incredible individual techniques, but a week later, they turned up with such a weak performance. It took us a couple of days to recover from the disappointment.

Arsene Wenger named the unchanged starting XI for the 5th consecutive time in the league, which had never happened in more than 20 years. The fact speaks volumes for the current stability in the team backed by the favourable injury situation in the last few months. Going into the game, Aaron Ramsey was a major doubt after suffering a blow to the fibula during the Hull game, but the Welshman overcame the injury and was passed fit. On the other hand, the Ox, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, and Danny Welbeck were still out. Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, and Tomas Rosicky were among the bench.

We struggled to understand why Arsenal started the game so slowly. Prior to the game, both Mertesacker and Koscielny stated that the key to their successful run of games lay in their fast start to  games. Despite their remarks, Arsenal moved the ball slowly in the first half, in particular at the back, with many passes going sideways or backwards. There was little movement from our attacking players in the final third, hence no penetration into the box. After the match, Wenger said "it sometimes takes a half to get into the right rhythm", but if Arsenal were dictating the game, they should have been able to impose their game and control the tempo as well. Arsenal's encounters with the Welsh side traditionally produced few first-half goals. Was the patience game a part of Wenger's game plan?

After the game, the Frenchman accused Gary Monk's side of "refusing to play". However, they were not the first team that have come to the Emirates and parked the bus and will not be the last. Arsenal have to learn how to break down organised and compact defence if they are to challenge for the title next season. In fact, we had enough chances in the second half to win the game, but this time we had to pay for our attacking players' profligacy in front of goal, unlike the Hull game when we could get away with it.

In the post-match press conference, the French tactician also emphasised the importance of not losing when unable to win, regretting the costly defensive error. A point would have left us still in charge of our own destiny for a top-two finish with a game in hand. Despite the boss' post-match comment, his withdrawal of Francis Coquelin in the 67th minute to bring on Jack Wilshere sent out the wrong message, when the introduction of fit-again Bafetimbi Gomis was still on the card for Swansea. Gary Monk once again outsmarted his experienced counterpart as the French striker's late goal broke our heart one more time this season. Now hopefully, Wenger will remind all his players how important not losing is ahead of their clash with Manchester United. A draw at Old Trafford and a win over either Sunderland or West Brom will ensure the last automatic Champions League qualification place.

Arsene Wenger tried a Plan B by introducing Theo Walcott in place of Olivier Giroud. The England forward is certainly a different attacking option, but the team continued to play in the same way, delivering crosses, especially from the right wing, and long corners with no target man to aim at.

Swansea's defensive performance earned plaudits from the media as well as Arsene Wneger, but it was helped by the referee Kevin Friend's generous approach in the early stages. Fernandez's nasty challenge on Giroud from behind escaped a booking, while Shelvey's robust tackle on Alexis only ended up with a yellow card. On separate occasions, Alexis and Giroud were manhandled in the box during set-pieces. Swansea's time-wasting tactic was obvious from the first half. There were at least 2 lengthy treatments during the first half, but the ref only added 2 minutes to the end of first half. Moreover, he didn't allow any discretion beyond 4 minutes of second-half stoppage time when a play was still continuing. He was no Friend of ours. That's for sure.

Similarly, Fabianski was named Man of the Match on the back of a string of his saves, but Arsenal 's poor finishing helped him as well. Although the ex-Gunner's double save looked stunning, both efforts from Alexis and Theo were straight at the keeper. As Arsene Wenger told, the Pole –now Poland's No. 1– did well, but our players made it too easy for him on some occasions.

The biggest talking point of this game was arguably the importance of the goal-line technology. Without it, Swansea's winner would probably have not been given. Both David Ospina and the assistant referee (and probably the referee initially) thought the Arsenal keeper saved it off the line. Wojciech Szczesny was also on the losing side of the goal-line technology in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading, conceding the first ever FA Cup goal given by the technology. These experiences could change goalkeepers' awareness in the future.

It was a disappointing display from the Gunners, but one defeat does not bring a crisis, especially after an 11 unbeaten run of games in all competitions. Hopefully, our team will respond by turning up with a good performance on Sunday. There is no better stage for that than Old Trafford. Man U will certainly come out to attack us at home in front of the home crowd. Besides, a point is not good enough for them. We have to be at our best again.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
When Ashley William's long ball fell in the path of Nathan Dyer, he was quick to come off the line to head the danger away. Although he was not culpable for not coming out to claim for Montero's cross, Gomis' tame header was stoppable.

Bellerin: 6

Dealt with Montero better than Chambers did in the reverse fixture, but he was dispossessed by the Ecuadorian in the Swansea half. Luckily, Ramsey covered to rescue the situation. 

Metesacker: 6
He should have been able to defend Montero's cross if he had jumped.

Koscielny: 6
He was a major culprit for Swansea's goal as he shouldn't have lost Gomis. Apart from the goal, he won most of the long ball for Gomis, winning 6 aerial duels, making 1 tackle, 6 interceptions and 1 clearance.

Monreal: 7

His mistake led to the build-up of Swansea's winner, but he made 6 interceptions. His angled shot, one of our better efforts, was denied by Fabianski after a great run into the box. 

Coquelin: 6
Not his kind of game with only 1 interception made, but he should not been sacrificed for an attacking option.

Cazorla: 7

Had 7 shots, 2 of which were on target.

Ramsey: 6
Had 5 shots, 1 of which were on target. He had one of our best chances, but his shot hit the side-netting, when he had an option to pass to two other players in the box. His finishing left a lot to be desired on this day.

Özil: 7
Made more passes (107) than any other players on the pitch, including 5 key passes, with a 93.5% accuracy. He was our best player according to's rating. 

Alexis: 6

Had 4 shots, 2 of which were on target. 

Giroud: 6
Had an early chance only to loop his header over the roof of the net from Ramsey's cross. Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target. Another tough game for him as he was tightly marked by centre-backs, being fouled on. Replaced by Walcott in the 69th minute.


Wilshere: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 67th minute. Another effective substitute appearance. Made 5 key passes.

Walcott: 5
Came off the bench to replace Giroud in the 69th minute. He could not even beat the keeper when  on the floor, however he was much more mobile than the statuesque Giroud.

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