Well that was a bit rubbish wasn't it?
I'll be honest, what with the rugby on directly after this game, I'm finding it hard to focus on the negatives from yesterday, but the manner of the Swansea performance was both strange and bemusing. But for the first fifteen minutes the Swans looked like they could have played for a week and not scored, such was the abstract manner of the performance.
|Angel Rangel goes close early on|
Before the game all the sounds coming out of the Arsenal camp were of the "the season starts here" variety, and who can blame them? Chasing European football in a season which will, once again for the North London side, end trophy-less, a win in South Wales was of the utmost importance if Arsenal are serious about closing the gap on the teams above them.
As mentioned, the Swans started brightly and some good interplay down the right ended with Angel Rangel going clean through on goal, but the former Terrassa man was under pressure from Monreal and the advancing Fabianski, and between them they did enough to put Rangel off and his poked effort drifted agonisingly wide of the Arsenal keeper's left upright. Next to go close was Michu - a few quick passes and a nice pivot by the languid centre forward ended with the ball being dragged again to the left of Fabianski. Given his exploits this season you'd expect Michu to do better, and it seems he's currently going through a bit of a barren patch - he's only scored in one of his last 10 PL matches, and that was against QPR (although granted he scored twice). He needs to score soon even if it's just for his own confidence.
Arsenal threatened regularly - in particular through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The young forward harassed Angel Rangel and the pace the young Gunner possesses was always going to be a problem for the Swans right-back - who, let's be honest. isn't the quickest off the mark. The Ox managed to get shots off twice in the first half, and both times he rattled the woodwork. The first was simply a cheeky cut inside Angel on his right before he unleashed a drive which cracked against the crossbar, while the second saw him drift across almost the entire Swans defence before repeating the trick.
One thing I noticed (but not everyone has agreed) was that Dyer and Pablo continued to tuck inside despite the Swans operating with three central midfielders. With the "Three winger" formation it's obviously important for the attacking players to link and switch, but I found the Swans were increasingly narrow as the first half wore on - and it was up to the full-backs to create any width (which they attempted to do admirably). After 18 minutes the Swans had 73% possession, but at about this point the tide turned and the Swans dropped deeper and deeper, with Michu taking up some really, really random positions. If you're playing one up top, and you're under the cosh, you need an outlet - it doesn't help if your outlet has decided to wander back to defensive midfield.
Swansea's central midfield three were, while generally neat and tidy, guilty of giving the ball away uncharacteristically easily, and Arsenal pressed the Swans further and further back into their own half to the point where the half time whistle will have been a relief to some. Anybody hoping for a different story in the second half would have been disappointed. I know that to compete with Arsenal is still, given the Swans recent past, an admirable effort and as one friend put it "I liked that we didn't play well but we didn't look outclassed" however I wasn't so sure. Arsenal's midweek exploits cannot be ignored and it's inexcusable that they looked like the team who wanted it more. The Swans had more time to prepare and should have been the more aggressive over ninety minutes - especially at home.
The second half unfolded in much the same manner as the first, with Arsenal continuing to put the Swans under more and more pressure - the perfect illustration of this came in roughly the sixtieth minute when Vorm attempted to play a simple pass to Rangel, however only succeeded in putting the ball out for Arsenal throw pretty much at the corner flag. Uncharacteristic from the Swans, but credit must go to Arsenal for forcing the Swans into making mistakes.
The opener came in the 74th minute. The Swans cleared a dangerous ball and it fell to Nathan Dyer - on his own up against three Arsenal defenders. He was mugged (possibly a foul but in truth Arsenal were always going to score at some point) and the ball eventually fell to Monreal who hit a slightly scuffed effort across Vorm, which the keeper failed to get to. From the replays it looked like Vorm could have done slightly better, however he was unsighted so it's possible he didn't see it until late. Either way, the ball found the net and from that point there was only going to be one winner.
And so it was that late on, Pablo Hernandez managed to tackle himself (he's been poor for a number of weeks and I would much rather have seen Routledge start in his place) and Arsenal broke upfield with men over. Garry Monk was never going to be able to do anything about a marauding red and white wave, and a good run by Aaron Ramsey (booo) followed by a fine pass led to Gervinho taking a touch before coolly finishing past Vorm. Whilst talking to a couple of Arsenal fans pre-game, I was going through some tweets and I had a giggle at "RT this if you're one of the 7 billion footballers better than Gervinho. #*%!££". While I didn't retweet it, I still felt a small karmic tug as he ran off celebrating.
|Arsenal's two goalscorers|
Over 90 minutes I thought Arsenal were the deserved winners, and considering recent form I think you could safely say that Swansea just didn't turn up yesterday. Hopefully this will prove the catalyst for the Swans as they aim to improve recent results which have seen them pick up less points than QPR since the beginning of the year. It would, however, be harsh not to mention Ashley Williams. In a sea of mediocrity he stood out once again as a leader of men, making crucial interception after crucial interception, not once looking ruffled and consistently bailing the Swans out of trouble. I really, really hope he doesn't leave at the end of the season, and in fairness there've been some good soundbites from him in recent weeks, so hopefully we won't have to deal with that. Fingers crossed eh.
All in all it wasn't that great a day at the office for Swansea City, but I won't be alone in saying that I ended the day with a massive grin on my face due to the national rugby team. Some solace, however Laudrup will no doubt be doing some tinkering this week in a bid to improve Swansea's recent league form. With some massive games coming up, he now has the international break to get his ideas across before Tottenham come to town. One thing is for sure, if we play like we did against Arsenal, Gareth Bale will have an absolute field day. Let's hope that's not the case...