Swansea have been our jinx since they returned to Premiership, but this time it was a totally different match from the very start. It seems that the players and manager realized that the FA Cup is our only chance to lift some silverware in 2013 and their approach to this match was proper one. Final percentage of duels won (63-37 for us).
Arsene Wenger made a few changes to the team that lost to Manchester City on Sunday. Per Mertesacker took the place of suspended Laurent Koscielny while Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud replaced the likes of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain respectively. Despite a tough forthcoming Chelsea fixture on Sunday, Wenger decided to go with Wilshere, Diaby and Cazorla in starting 11. The reason why Wenger surprisingly introduced Coquelin in starting 11 was the intention of our manager to control the middle of the park and to help Diaby in defensive duties. Wilshere was more advanced than his colleagues in the midfield while Walcott and Cazorla were sent wider than usual in order to provide quality crosses for our lone striker Giroud. Michael Laudrup left his greatest asset Michu on the bench again.
From the very start our players had shown a determination and willingness to win the match. The first half-chance for us was provided by poor pass from Bartley but Walcott’s interception didn’t bring anything dangerous to Vorm. Swansea responded instantly – the ball came to Graham through a huge gap between Vermaelen and Gibbs, but the man responsible for this replay taking place at the first place failed to put his shot on target. We had our first shot on the opponents’ goal only a few minutes later – Walcott’s cross from the right was headed wide by Giroud and same combination a bit later didn’t bring any change on score-board as well. Our pressing was decent tonight but we had a problem with final pass in the first half and that made creating clear-cut chances a much harder task.
After Dwight Tiendalli made a decent run on the left side and found Dyer in our box, it took sliding tackle from our captain Vermaelen to block the shot. After Diaby lost the ball, Graham had another chance but he didn’t wear his shooting boots tonight. A couple of minutes later Vermaelen’s free-kick was deflected to corner after which Coquelin had a chance but his half-volley was saved by the brilliant Michel Vorm. Diaby had a chance to score as well but his not-so-strong left-foot shot was blocked (or more precise, it had hit Bartley on it’s way to the goal). On the other side of the pitch, Swansea had a great chance to score and it was a bit of deja vu from the first match. Routledge’s cross was met by Bartley’s header but former Arsenal defender was unlucky as his header was denied by the crossbar – just like in the first match.
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Jack Wilshere was doing his best to create chances for us. His wonderful run to the penalty box ended with pass to Walcott but the latter didn’t find the target – his shot was blocked by Chico Flores. Cazorla tried to create a chance for our attackers but his wonderful split pass into the box wasn’t met by neither Walcott nor Giroud. However, it was the last attempt in the first half that was the biggest opportunity for us to score. Walcott took a corner which was headed away by the visitors. The ball hit Mertesacker and deflected to Vermaelen who was totally alone in front of Vorm but the Belgian’s shot from seven yards wasn’t powerful enough and it was saved. For the third time this season the first half between Arsenal and Swansea ended goal-less.
We went out with the same determined attitude in the second half as well. Diaby’s wonderful through pass gave an opportunity for Theo Walcott to run towards goal. His shirt was a bit pulled from Chico Flores and that was enough for the Englishman to lose composure so his low shot – the one that he usually puts in – went a few inches wide. A few moments later, Wilshere combined with Cazorla just outside the box. The Spaniard made a wonderful shot but it went over the bar.
We didn’t stop attacking and our second half performance was probably one of the best in the whole season. One of Walcott’s corners finally found our most dangerous header but Giroud’s attempt went wide again. Wilshere won himself a chance, he ran to the edge of the penalty box and unlike his usual routine tried to shoot himself instead of passing to the left where Cazorla was waiting for the ball. Wilshere’s shot was blocked by Chico Flores. That didn’t discourage Wilshere. Our best player took the ball on the left side and did an impression of Lionel Messi by taking out Swansea defenders before releasing a shot. Unfortunately, Vorm saved it only to Walcott’s foot who made a horrible miss by hitting the chest of Danny Graham who was on the goal-line instead of the net behind Swansea striker. After the corner, the ball went to the net again but it was Britton who saved the visitors from going one goal down.
A Combination of Cazorla and Giroud created another chance for us a few minutes later but the Frenchman’s shot ended in Vorm’s safe hands. Walcott had another chance for goal after Wilshere’s pass but it went wide again. Arsenal were knocking on the Swansea door and there were a lot of people who were knocking indeed. Sagna sent a powerful left-foot shot over the bar before Wilshere had a decent shot saved by Vorm. Giroud had another attempt but this time he missed with his right foot or, more precisely, Vorm was well-positioned again. The first shot on goal the visitors made in 80th minute – substitution Ki made a low shot into the left corner of Sczszesny’s goal but the Pole tipped it to the corner despite the fact the ball wasn’t going in. Some chance for the visitors came from that corner – Chico Flores headed the cross sent to the near post but it had only hit side-netting. On the other side of the pitch, Sagna created a problems to the visitors again – he made a cross with left foot, it was only barely touched by Walcott’s head, but it wasn’t the night Walcott will remember with smile on his face despite our victory – the ball hit the post and went to the Vorm’s hands. Walcott had another shot a few minutes later but Vorm was there again. Giroud wasn’t lucky as well – his shot was cleared off the line after the corner.
And then, it finally happened. Tireless Jack Wilshere got his final reward – after Vermaelen intercepted the pass on the center of the pitch, Cazorla played the ball to Giroud on the edge of the penalty box. The Frenchman made a wonderful lay-off to on-coming Wilshere who stroke a powerful shot past Vorm into the net. It was second Wilshere’s goal of the season and final pass was again provided by Giroud.
We were there but it wasn’t done yet. We already tasted a late equalizer against Swansea and with Michu on the field (introduced instead of Graham) 1-0 lead wasn’t the most secure one. We tried to score another goal but after Wilshere and Cazorla combined on the left side of the attack, the latter one Gervinhoed the ball way over the bar. It was the last chance of the match.
At the end of the day, it was well-deserved victory with the fantastic performance of Jack Wilshere rewarded with late winner. Diaby was on the field for more than an hour and it is a good sign regarding his fitness as well as the fact that Coquelin gave a decent display. Our defense was very solid with a couple of mistakes that didn’t cost us at the end. It was a really good performance which would be even more excellent if our finishing wasn’t so poor. We are going to face Brighton in the Fourth Round in an away match. I believe that no further warnings against complacency are needed after that match against Bradford in Capital One Cup.
But, first – Chelsea.
on the performance…
We had a better team balance tonight and created chance after chance, especially in the second half but even in the first half we created chances. It was unbelievable that we couldn’t score, but we got it in the end. We persevered and were rewarded and we had a good performance. It gives you a lot of regrets that we played with 10 men on Sunday when you see our second half and our game tonight. It is important that we continue to develop like that as a team.
on Jack Wilshere…
Yes, he was outstanding tonight. I felt many players played well. As a team we played well and he was in a different position, he was high up and it suits him well. I have no experience of player being out for 17 months in my whole career, but honestly I always said that if we got Jack on January 1, then we would have done well. But he is ahead of what I could imagine.
on whether he considered taking him off…
No, I did not envisage that at all. I would love to have done it, but I was never in a position to do it because you could feel he was a threat. Even as a left winger he was a threat. We combined well, Gibbs had a great second half on the left side, also on the right side – we were dangerous everywhere.
on whether No 10 is his true position…
He is at the complete midfielder, he can play anywhere. He is a guy who can dribble and give a final ball, so the closer he is to goal, the better it is. He has quality and enthusiasm, and love for the game. That is the most important thing to me.
on Coquelin and Diaby…
We try to put a but more power in to defend better and it looked tonight like it worked well. Diaby responded well, I should maybe have taken him off a bit earlier but he looked alright.
on missing many chances…
That is the negative of the night.
on whether he needs a striker…
I believe in Giroud. He is a threat and he creates chances. Let’s first try to finish the deal with Walcott and then we see what we can do from there.
on when the Walcott deal could be signed…
I hope it will be soon, very, very soon now. I cannot tell you much more.
on Guardiola going to Bayern Munich…
He has chosen Bayern, it came as a surprise to me as well. Only he can answer that question. So you see we need a good performance because we play against two managers when we play against Bayern!
on the FA Cup’s importance…
I would not like to think the Premier League is less important, we have to fight very hard to get back into a better position there. But we are in a position where you lose at home to Manchester City your confidence drops very quickly. So no matter what competition it was tonight, we just wanted to win the game. We go to Brighton now, and we will play with full power but there was more at stake tonight than just the FA Cup. [The priority] was to win again after losing such a big game on Sunday it was important to come back and win straight away.
on staying in more than one competition…
Yes, that is important as well. Yes, it’s one of the reasons [why he fields stronger teams in the cups now]. We have tried to stay in as many competitions as possible. I took seriously as well, even if it didn’t work, at Bradford. The fact that you play difficult games in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, they are fantastic games in front of us but it is important to stay in as many competitions as possible.
Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Wojciech Szczesny | 7.0: Wasn’t too busy – all he had to save was a low shot by Ki and he did it properly.
Bacary Sagna | 7.5: He was much better in the second half and finally put some quality crosses into the box. In the first half, his defensive side was exploited in couple of occasions – for Dyer’s chance blocked by Vermaelen and for Routledge’s cross that found Bartley’s head.
Per Mertesacker | 7.5: In several occasions he helped our attack with passing to feet as well while he did his job in defense without any fuss.
Thomas Vermaelen | 7.5: Made a vital block in the first half, failed to convert a wonderful opportunity in the injury time of the first half and made vital interception just before we scored. His defensive game was solid though Graham had one opportunity due to the gap made by the Belgian and Gibbs.
Kieran Gibbs | 7.5: Very good performance. Sliding tackles, interceptions, restricting opponents from chances to score from his side… Aforementioned mistake in the opening exchances was the only one that I can recall from top of my head.
Abou Diaby | 7.0: He was very important in our first half performance due to his ability to press opponents in their own third of the pitch combined with his exceptional technique, but he got tired in the second half. Gave a wonderful pass to Walcott in that part of the game, though. It is encouraging that he spent over an hour on the pitch without getting injured. He was substituted with Ramsey.
Francis Coquelin | 7.5: Did very well and allowed creative parts of the team to do their job. Managed to sting the palms of Vorm himself with a decent effort in the first half.
Jack Wilshere | 9.0: Amazing performance. He was by far the best player on the field, constant threat to opponents, nominally a creative force but had to transform into deus ex machine after his team-mates failed to convert one of the million chances we had. In one occasion in the first half after Cazorla’s pass he had shown how we should play off the ball – too bad Walcott didn’t get it.
Theo Walcott | 7.5: He was unlucky not to score from at least three good chances but he was creating chances for Giroud. He failed to find the net ever since he scored that stunning goal that completed his hat-trick against Newcastle which could suggest that unresolved contract situation doesn’t have positive influence on him. Well, Theo, just sign da ting then!
Santi Cazorla | 7.0: His shooting boots are obviously lost somewhere. Sometimes his passing looked like he had just arrived to Arsenal. He gave a pass to Giroud before Wilshere’s goal though.
Olivier Giroud | 8.0: He made another assist and it was the vital one. Was unlucky that none of his numerous headers didn’t want to o into the net as well as his attempts with both feet. He was doing an excellent job in holding the ball and winning the space for his team-mates.
Aaron Ramsey | N/A: Didn’t make a real influence during his time on the field.
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