We were handed a tough draw in our opening match in the FA Cup. Playing Swansea anywhere is a tough challenge, especially considering the fact we had lost the two previous matches to the Swans. There was additional pressure on our players – given that we are out of the Capital One Cup, 18 points behind (with game in hand) leaders FAnchester United in the Premiership and our next obstacle in the Champions’ League are Bayern Muenchen, arguably the best team in Europe this season. The FA Cup is the only competition left in which we can lift some silverware.
This match came during the January transfer window. In the previous couple of days we have witnessed the departures of Djourou (loaned to Hannover 96) and Chamakh (loaned to West Ham United) but it still remains uncertain whether Gunners’ fans all over the world will see a decent signing (or any kind of signing) in this transfer window.
Arsene Wenger made a couple of changes in the starting line-up. Captain Thomas Vermaelen was left on the bench with Per Mertesacker returning from illness. Lukas Podolski was also dropped after his horrible performance against the Saints with Aaron Ramsey taking his spot in the starting 11. Olivier Giroud replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain, which meant Theo Walcott would play on the right wing. Michael Laudrup left his best player and scorer Michu on the bench due to Spaniard’s back problems.
In the opening minutes of today’s clash we were the ones that were in control. Wilshere’s cross from the free-kick was headed away to the corner by Routledge. The Swans were trying down the flanks. Dyer and De Guzman made a decent combination on the right side before the cross was lashed, but Sagna was the one that got to the ball first. The first opportunity came after 13 minutes and it was the Swans that carved it out. Danny Graham managed to find enough space on the edge of the box, despite Mertesacker being close to him. Graham made a shot but Sczszesny pulled out a very decent save. Walcott tried to respond after Giroud and Ramsey participated in the build-up but his shot was blocked. After that we had seen one of a million free-kicks this season that as sent diretly into the opponents’ wall. Walcott was fouled in D-area and decided to take free-kick himself, despite the fact both Arteta and Cazorla seem to be the more reasonable choices to take it. Later on, we made a very nice move on the left edge of the Swansea box with Ramsey running into the box on the last Swansea defender while Giroud was waiting for the pass to make an easy tap-in. Unfortunately, Ramsey’s touch was heavy and he was unable to neither make a shot himself nor to pass the ball to Giroud.
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Our next attack gave us satisfaction of at least making an attempt on goal. Gibbs cut inside the box and passed the ball back to Cazorla but the Spaniard failed to find the target. His shot went over the bar. The Swans nearly punished our misses. Kyle Bartley was written off by Wenger and he hasn’t enjoy much of playing time so far in Swansea neither, but he came closest to scoring in the first half with his header hitting the woodwork and behind the byline. Mertesacker gave another piece of poor defending in the first half beings out-muscled by our former player in the air.
Arsenal started in promising fashion in the second half. Giroud was more active in the opening minutes of the second half than he was in the whole first half. He created problems for Vorm on two occasions but result remained 0-0.
Then enter Michu. It took 73 seconds before the Spaniard scored his third goal in an Arsenal v Swansea tie. He collected a flick by Danny Graham, made a fool of Mertesacker with wonderful dribbling and then showed quicker feet than both Arteta and Sagna before clinical finishing.
The good thing is, we didn’t surrender. Ramsey found himself with the ball next to the left corner flag before making a cross, but Giroud’s header went wide. Wenger decided to inject some power to sterile attack and substituted Ramsey with Podolski. Walcott had a wonderful chance to make things even at the Liberty Stadium but his diagonal shot from the right side of the box went just a little bit wide. Podolski missed the goal with same kind of shot from the left side a minute later but it would be ruled out anyway since the German was offside.
And then, we equalized. Walcott’s corner went deep onto the far post but Sagna headed it back to Koscielny who tried to put a volley. He didn’t hit the ball properly but it turned out to be good thing for the Gunners – the ball ended at Lukas Podolski’s left foot and the German smashed it to the bottom left corner of Vorm’s net.
It seemed that Podolski’s goal was the final impulse we needed in order to finish off our hosts. Two minutes later Gibbs and Giroud made a wonderful one-two on the left side. Giroud clipped the ball into the box to Gibbs who had hit it with wonderful volley into the roof of the net to make it 2:1 for us. Victory that would spare us fixture congestion was within grasp but the hosts didn’t roll ever neither. After Ki missed a good chance made by poor heading from our defenders to score an equalizer, the hosts had the corner. Our defense made a poor clearance again, the ball went on the right side of Sczszesny’s area. Graham was left far too much space by Arteta and it didn’t go unpunished – Graham put the ball into the net to make it 2:2.
Koscielny and Tiendalli could had won the tie for Arsenal and Swansea respectively. Our French defender put a wonderful header but Vorm managed to deflect the ball that went just under his bar. The ball was hit again by Koscielny, this time with volley, but it went over the bar. On the other side, our poor defending opened chance for Tiendalli to score but hit the side-netting.
Despite what Wenger said, I believe that we should be disappointed with today’s result. We already have very difficult January with matches against Manchester City and Chelsea on its way and with no signings on horizon, another tough fixture with Swansea is the last thing we need. We were too sterile in attack throughout the larger part of the match and very poor in defensive positioning.
Two matches played against Swansea so far in this season reminds us a lot of our two matches against Schalke in the Champions’ League. We were beaten at home 0:2 in both occasions with horrible attacking performances and a lack of decent defending in the second half, we gave much better performance in the away fixtures on both occasions, but we were held to 2:2 draw anyway despite leading in both matches and conceding goals by Huntelaar and Michu in both fixtures suggests we don’t learn from our mistakes.
on the match…
We should have won this game. I felt the first half was a bit locked and one-paced, as much as the second half became much more open. I think in the second half we created many chances and suddenly found ourselves 1-0 down. We have shown character and quality. I felt when we conceded the corner [that led to the second goal], we lacked a little bit [of] calmness and focus. It’s frustrating to concede a goal just like that on a corner where we couldn’t clear the ball before the corner. Even on the corner, we were first to the ball and didn’t win the ball. We have shown quality and heart and it’s quite good if we can repeat that.
on getting back into the game…
We kept going. I felt that we always created chances from midfield. Their keeper kept them in the game and Kieran Gibbs had an outstanding game. He gets better and better. When you see this kind of game, it’s very positive.
on if Arsenal should have had a penalty…
It was one and the referee saw it. You know why he didn’t give it? Because he thought the guy had not done it on purpose, [which] I think as well. It was accidental but he [Ramsey] didn’t trip himself. He was caught clearly by the leg of the Swansea player. I don’t know who it was. He had a hesitation, the referee, and in the end he didn’t give it.
The problem is we could have had a penalty but that can happen, but after [we could have] gone down to 10 men and down 1-0 as well. Overall, we have shown good mental quality.
on a replay and fixture congestion…
I am frustrated because I wouldn’t want one, but if that’s the choice between going out or staying in the hat, I take the replay. [We] play at the Emirates. They have many games as well. We have a [rearranged game] against West Ham on January 23.
on if the squad can cope with so many games…
Yes, if we have no injuries. Today we had four players at home, and I didn’t bring on Chamberlain, Coquelin [or] Rosicky. Diaby’s coming back and if we find one or two on the transfer market, then why not.
on if the extra fixture heightens the need for new players…
Let’s first keep the players we have and maybe add one or two. We lost Chamakh and Djourou now, so there’s some room.
on Giroud’s knee…
He has a big scar but I think he should be OK now.
on Kyle Bartley…
He had a good game. He had a little bit a lack of experience. He was especially impatient and I couldn’t promise him to play with the number of centre backs we had. He came here [to Swansea], he has not played a lot, because he has been injured. We bought him when he was at Bolton, when he was a young boy of 16 years of age. We know he has the quality. He played at Rangers. Sometimes when the players have been out on loan and have played a lot, they do not want to wait anymore when they come back.
Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker Gibbs
Wojciech Szczesny | 6.5: Made a couple of saves. He couldn’t do much when he conceded. He should stop playing with the nerves of the fans when the opponent tries to take the ball off his feet.
Bacary Sagna | 5.0: Another poor performance from the Frenchman. Nobody can remember when he had put a decent cross and we are usually exposed from his side. He did make a certain contribution to our first goal and collected a couple of headers after opponents’ crossed the ball.
Laurent Koscielny | 6.0: If only he was prolific against opponents’ goalkeepers as he is against Sczszesny… Despite the missed header to win the match, he was decent during the match, though, with no serious mistakes. He assisted to Podolski.
Per Mertesacker | 4.0: Horrible performance by the German who suffered from illness recently. Always beaten at important moments by the Swans.
Kieran Gibbs |6.5: Again, much better in the offensive part than in defending. Scored a magnificent goal. His defending was horrible and if Tiendalli had scored, he would be one to blame.
Mikel Arteta | 6.5: He was doing his job well but failed to mark Graham before the second goal we conceded.
Santi Cazorla| 6.0: He was neither hitting his shots on target nor creating chances for the team-mates.
Jack Wilshere |6.5: Much better in the second half. Always determined.
Aaron Ramsey | 5.5: He wasn’t that bad but he spoiled one great chance in the first half. After Wenger realized Ramsey is not a right winger, he should be told that the Welshman is not a left winger neither. Made a decent cross for Giroud, though.
Theo Walcott | 6.5: Wasn’t efficient again but he was trying. He should give up from taking free-kicks. Really.
Olivier Giroud | 6.5: Missed too many chances but managed to grab himself an assist.
Lukas Podolski | 7.0: Injected much needed aggression and formed some partnership with Gibbs on the left side.
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