Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Swansea 0 Arsenal 3

Arsenal needed to leave behind a shock 3-0 defeat at Hillsborough quickly and re-focus on their Premier-League title quest. What was more disheartening for us was to learn the lack of depth in the squad and the way the team played, with no desire nor leadership, rather than the exit from the Capital One Cup itself. Besides, the injuries to the Ox and Theo were bigger blows than the result.

Despite the mounting injury concerns and criticism against the medical team following the midweek game, the only forced changes from the side that started in a 2-1 win over Everton last weekend was the one for the right wing position. Another change was in the central defence, where Per Mertesacker, who missed the Everton game through illness, was restored at the expense of Gabriel. Giroud led the line as expected, as we no longer have a luxury of rotating the strikers depending on the opponents or our tactics.

Prior to the game, the big talking point was who was going to start on the right flank. Aaron Ramsey had been playing there out of position for some time, but he succumbed to a hamstring injury during our 2-0 defeat of Bayern Munich. Now we are without the Ox as well, who looked set to enjoy regular playing time in the absence of the Welshman. Wenger suggested that he could play Santi Cazorla, with Mathieu Flamini next to Francis Coquelin. However, he was reluctant to do so as the little Spanish magician has been a revelation in a deep-lying role and his presence there has been instrumental to the team's quick transition from defence to attack. The boss also weighed up the options of deploying Joel Campbell or Alex Iwobi in the position, but after their underwhelming performances against Sheffield Wednesday, we preferred the idea of Hector Bellerin playing there with Mathieu Debuchy behind him. However, at his pre-match press conference on Friday, Arsene Wenger appeared to be inclined to hand Campbell his first Premier League start. The Frenchman praised the Costa Rica international's hard work in training and was convinced that he was ready to step up to the next level.

We expected a tough game. Swansea has proved to be our bogey team in recent years, having done the double over us last season. Although the Welsh side is currently far from enjoying  fine form, the Liberty Stadium is a difficult place to go for any team. The game started with a slow tempo. The hosts saw more of the ball, while the visitors were tentative going forward, with few committed into the box. We were clearly second best in the first half and it was crucial not to concede a goal in this period, for which we largely owed Bellerin's last-ditch tackle to deny Gomis' seemingly inevitable goal-scoring chance.

However, the second-half was a different story. Arsenal stepped up the gear and it only took 4 minutes to take the lead. Giroud scored from an Özil corner. This was the Gunners' 2000th goal under Wenger's just-over-19-year reign. Then, the tide had turned. We were in the ascendancy.

Our second goal might have been unusual rather than controversial. Koscielny did not commit a foul in his challenge on Fabianski. The French defender clearly ducked down to avoid interfering with the Swansea keeper getting to the ball, but unfortunately for the former Arsenal keeper, he couldn't get a firm hold of the ball, which fell kindly for our centre-back. Apparently, Olivier Giroud, the closest bystander, said to him that he could take a shot, which Koscielny did. We were surprised to see the goal given only because goalkeepers are always favourite in this kind of decisions.

The third goal was more typical of the north London club. Özil and Sanchez exchanged the ball near the edge of the box and the German playmaker, who made a run into the box through the left-hand-side channel, picked Campbell at far post with his low cross. The Costa Rican took a touch and slotted it into the far corner. It was a great finish to cap his impressive performance on his first Premier-League start.

In the end, it turned out to be a comfortable win for us. We still had enough time to threaten the Swansea goal on a few more occasions, which was a worry for some of us whose wagers were on a 3-0 to Arsenal. Wenger could even afford to do some experiments in playing Gibbs and Chambers in midfield and giving Alex Iwobi game time.

All in all, it was a brilliant afternoon for us, filled with encouraging signs for the Gunners' title challenge. They have turned around the game after the sluggish first-half and imposed themselves in the second period. We could have lost this kind of games in the past or drawn at best. Giroud continued his fine goal-scoring form (with the midweek game considered to be a blip due to the lack of service). Koscielny scored his second goal as many games. Mesut Özil added two more assists to his tally of 9 as the leading Premier League assist providers. However, the most encouraging sign of all was Joel Campbell's energetic performance. His work rate was phenomenal both defensively and offensively. We thought he was not skillful enough to get into the first team by the look of him playing against Sheffield Wednesday, but he looked the part on this day. Arsene Wenger hopes that he will turn out to be a Francis Coquelin or a Hector Bellerin of this season, who both grabbed their chances last season, when first-choice players were out through injuries, and established themselves as regular starters. Hopefully, Joel Campbell will successfully fill the Ox's boots (or even more).

Arsene Wenger regarded the victory as progress from the last season. This fixture has seen Gary Monk gain the upper hand in terms of tactics in recent years. Most famously, the Arsenal boss was heavily criticised for leaving Calum Chambers to be roasted by Montero on the right wing last season. This season, the Frenchman successfully turned around the game at half time and the comfortable scoreline even allowed him to give the young English defender a chance to exorcise his traumatic experience.

The three points ensured that we kept pace with the league leaders, Manchester City, who are level on points with us but have a superior goal difference. Three goals without reply narrowed the gap in the goal difference to 4 goals. Our title challenge continues.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
His presence had a big part in putting Gomis off. On the one-on-one with the Czech Republic international, the French striker tried to go round him, which gave Bellerin time to catch up with him. Made a couple of fine saves as well.

Bellerin: 8
His last-man tackle in the first half was arguably the turning point of the game. He also made a brave save off the line, crashing into the post. Although Andre Ayew was adjudged off-side, it highlighted his resolve and progress as a defender. Struggled to contain Jefferson Montero in the first half, though, even with his pace.

Mertesacker: 6
His positioning was questionable when Gomis was through on goal. Replays showed that he handled Sigurdsson's free-kick in the area, which was missed by everyone, including the ref and Swansea players.
Koscielny: 8
Scored a back-to-back goal. Made one tackle, 5 interceptions and 6 clearances.

Monreal: 8
He rarely puts a foot wrong. Made 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and a clearance, winning 4 aerial battles. Solid display.

Coquelin: 7
Quietly did his job. Made 6 interceptions.

Cazorla: 7
Quiet game by his standard, but made more passes (76) than any other Arsenal player with an 89.5% accuracy.

Campbell: 8
Made 3 tackles 2 interceptions and a clearance. Helped out Bellerin on a few occasions to cope with Montero in the first half. Had 4 shots, 2 of which were on target (and another was not far off, either). Scored his first goal in Arsenal colours.

Özil: 8
Widely regarded as the Man of the Match. Set up the first goal from the perfect delivery of a corner kick and the third with a low cross, creating 5 chances in total. Had a shot on target.

Alexis: 7
Had 4 shots, none of which were on target, but he worked hard as usual, making one tackle, one interception and 2 clearances. Created 3 chances for his team mates. 

Giroud: 8
Claimed his 6th league goal. He pulled Mertesacker back to make space for himself and shrug off his marker and placed his header perfectly. He had more (15) headed goals than any Premier League player since his debut, a fact that underlines his development, given he only scored one headed goal for Montpellier in the year when he was named as the joint top Ligue 1 scorer.


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 83rd minute. Made 3 passes with a 66.7% success rate and one shot blocked.

Chambers: 6
Came off the bench to replace Campbell in the 83rd minute. Arguably the slowest winger in the Premier League, but somewhat managed one key pass. Made 2 tackles.

Iwobi:  N/A
Replaced Alexis Sanchez in stoppage time. Had 2 touches.

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