It’s never easy to go out on the pitch only three days after you suffer a six-goal-margin mauling. We have had three devastating defeats this season – Manchester City (6:3), Liverpool (5:1) and now Chelsea (6:0). We had to wait nine days after our defeat at Etihad to play Chelsea at home and that game ended 0:0. It was a game in which Wenger took a cautious approach in order to stay undefeated. It was a chess-game that ended in a stalemate with neither Giroud (two good opportunities) nor Lampard (hit the crossbar) capable of giving their opponents a checkmate from promising positions.
We had another big game to recover after our second defeat too, this time against United. Arsene Wenger went again for a cautious approach, our opponents were denied by the crossbar (Wojciech Szczesny deserved credit for saving our net too) and Koscielny’s bullet-header was cleared by Valencia on the goal-line. That game ended 0:0 as well.
We suffered our third large defeat of the season and our next opponents – with all due respect – don’t deserve the “as long as we don’t lose”-approach. We have to win against Swansea in order to get back onto the winning track. Everton are getting closer, Spuds might gain some momentum after they produced a come-back against Southampton and you can never write off Manchester United completely even when their displays are poor and they are without Robin van Persie for a very long time.
In order to relieve us from needless stress and gain momentum ahead of three super-important matches (Manchester City and Everton in the league, Wigan in the cup), we have to win tomorrow and do the first double over the Swans since they returned to the Premiership.
It won’t be easy though. Matches against Swansea haven’t been the easiest, especially on our turf. It’s a bit bizarre that their first visit to the Emirates in 2011-12 took place after we had lost by a six-goal-margin at Old Trafford. For those who don’t remember, after we had lost 8:2 we had a 2:10 goal-difference with just one point from three games. Swansea then came to town and gave a great performance. We lived dangerously but a huge mistake from Michel Vorm followed by clever finish from Andrey Arshavin earned us our first victory of the season.
Last campaign Swansea punished a pale and toothless Gunners with two late strikes from Michu. It was arguably the worst performance Gunners had displayed in years and if I were in Stan Kroenke’s place, I’d have sacked Wenger after the final whistle. Swansea were much better team that afternoon and totally deserved the points. Later that season, Swansea visited Emirates in FA Cup replay. Jack Wilshere gave the best performance of his career, it seemed like there were at least three Wilsheres against the visitors and each one of them looked hungry for victory. Our domination and Jack’s performance were capped with a lovely strike from the English wonder-kid after a nice lay-off from Giroud.
It should be said that we have played four times against the Welsh outfit since the defeat at the Emirates and three of those took place at Liberty Stadium. We won three out of four matches so it seems like Arsene Wenger has found a way to deal with the Swans. Still, it’s hard to say how much that defeat at Stamford Bridge has influenced our players’ self-confidence. There will be a bit of a handbrake at the start of the match before we start playing our natural game. If anything, we should win the game given that we have been really solid at the Emirates (we have conceded only 7 out of 34 goals at home). Our midfield must avoid giving away possession – that has been the main reason for our disasters this campaign – and our full-backs must be more careful when it comes to our opponents’ counter-attacks.
The Swans – who play a possession-based football – have struggled to repeat their performances from the last two seasons. It’s like the second-season-syndrome has hit them in their third consecutive season in Premiership. Their sensational signing from the last campaign Michu has suffered from the same disease as well and injuries haven’t been on his side either. The Danish legend Michael Laudrup – who won the Capital One Cup last season – was sacked and replaced by Garry Monk who is still a registered player for the club. It’s questionable whether that change had a positive effect as the Swans haven’t won in their last five league games – their last victory came against Cardiff City 3:0 on 8th February.
The Swans sit four points above the relegation zone but 18th-placed Sunderland have two games in hand. The Welsh side could have made their relegation battle non-existent had they won their home matches against their closest rivals on the table Crystal Palace and West Brom respectively. They had scored the first goal of the game in both matches but they conceded late goals and earned just a point at Crystal Palace and lost all three to West Brom. However, they haven’t been heavily beaten by anyone during their win-less streak. Au contraire, they gave a good scare to Liverpool at Anfield and lost 4:3. It seems that Swansea couldn’t deal with a European hangover as they had participated in Europa League before they were knocked out by Napoli. It’s interesting to notice that both Arsenal and Swansea played at Naples this year and that both teams lost with a two-goal-margin with Higuain on the score-sheet for the Italians in both ties. Eh, Higuain…
The most dangerous Swan this term has been Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian striker – who was signed from Vitesse last summer – has had a slow start but that didn’t stop him from reaching the 20-goal-mark in all competitions. It’s interesting to take a closer look at his 11-goal-tally in Premiership. He has scored one goal against United, two against City, one against Spuds, two against Liverpool and one against Everton. If you add two goals Bony has scored against Stoke, it will turn out that the Ivorian has scored nine out of his eleven goals against teams from the better half of the table! He is especially strong in the air so our central defenders (probably Mertesacker and Vermaelen) will have to pay special attention to him. Nathan Dyer is a pacey winger and has caused many problems for us in previous encounters while Wayne Routledge occupies the opposite flank. Michu is one that doesn’t need a special introduction – he has scored three goals against us already since joining Swansea and two of those gave them a shocking victory at the Emirates last season. He hasn’t enjoyed the best campaign so far but our defenders and midfielders should be aware of his presence, especially given that Koscielny won’t play. Pablo Hernandez is also worth paying attention of as he can give a deadly pass as well as Jonathan de Guzman – the two of them have created 12 goals so far. The Swans also have one of the finest goalkeepers in the league in recent years – the Dutch goalkeeper Michel Vorm had been on the wishlist of many Gooners before Szczesny started to produce mature performances. Ashley Williams is a key member of their defence – also heavily connected with a possible move to Arsenal in the past. Left full-back Ben Davies is one of the finest prospects in his position and might become a huge success.
The good news is, we are going to have both Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available for the match. Both of them were cleared by The FA. (Unfortunately, Andre Marriner didn’t get any punishment either.) Laurent Koscielny is unavailable for the match which means Thomas Vermaelen will step in. Our skipper should be sharp and aware of the danger Bony and Michu represent. He made a huge mistake against Everton but luckily for both of us we weren’t punished for that. I don’t think Wenger will start with Gibbs again – the Englishman was all over the place even before he got sent off. Perhaps it’s Nacho time again.
It remains unknown whether we will see Kim Kallstrom in action tomorrow. Our midfield has been stretched out with injuries and Kallstrom might get some minutes to both gain match fitness and to rest established members of the first team.
There are unconfirmed reports that Lukasz Fabianski will get his chance between the sticks. Our second-choice goalkeeper has been very reliable over the year and a game against Swansea might be the first step toward his swan-song in an Arsenal shirt (yes, it’s a lame pun).
Olivier Giroud might be first choice for the game given that his home form is better than on the road. Neither of our goal-scorers from the reverse fixture are likely to play – Ramsey still has thigh problems while Gnabry hasn’t had too many chances to shine after an impressive performance at Liberty Stadium. Still, if there is a game when the young German might get a chance, it’s this one. That would give a chance for Oxlade-Chamberlain to get a bit of a rest before Manchester City. Another youngster is with the squad after Koscielny had been ruled out due to injury – Hector Bellerin might get a chance to show his quality on the right flank at some point in the match.
Mikel Arteta has had a lot of problems this season against opponents who have a strong midfield in terms of technique and pace so Mathieu Flamini might start ahead of the Spaniard with Tomas Rosicky or even Kim Kallstrom alongside him in the middle. Rosicky has been the most dangerous Arsenal player in the last two games and the only one that actually created something that wasn’t crap against the Chavs.
We need three points tomorrow and our players should deliver it. They owe us a really good performance after the embarrassing display at Stamford Bridge. They also owe themselves a good performance as an injection of self-confidence ahead of a difficult task – the match against Manchester City.
Arsenal: Koscielny (calf), Ramsey (thigh), Özil (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Ryo (hamstring), Diaby (knee), Walcott (knee).
Swansea: Bartley (hamstring), Pozuelo (muscle).
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 23 Dec 2013 Swansea 1 – Arsenal FC 2
Capital One Cup (CCUP) 29 Oct 2013 Swansea 0 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 20 Jan 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Swansea 0
Premier League (EPL) 29 Sep 2012 Swansea 2 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 21 Apr 2012 Arsenal FC 0 – Swansea 2
22 Mar 2014 Chelsea FC 6 – Arsenal FC 0
16 Mar 2014 Tottenham 0 – Arsenal FC 1 EPL
11 Mar 2014 FC Bayern München 1 – Arsenal FC 1 UCL
8 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1 FA
1 Mar 2014 Stoke City 1 – Arsenal FC 0 EPL
22 Mar 2014 Everton 3 – Swansea 2
15 Mar 2014 Swansea 1 – West Brom 2
2 Mar 2014 Swansea 1 – Crystal Palace 1
27 Feb 2014 Napoli 3 – Swansea 1
23 Feb 2014 Liverpool FC 4 – Swansea 3
Arsenal 3 – Swansea 1