Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 11 2011
After the trials and tribulations of Manchester and the breathless fallout of the transfer window, married to another tedious international break, this game felt like something of a clean slate for Arsenal. The atmosphere inside the ground was notably perkier before kickoff, with Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker making their debuts, whilst Park Ju-Young, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun on the bench. The lingering air around the club seemed to have been lifted, with all eyes focussing forward now- as the legend beneath the club crest invites.
Initially, the Gunners fed on the feel good factor and almost took the lead inside 55 seconds. What was notable about Arsenal`s midfield was that Arteta and Ramsey swapped roles constantly throughout the game, with Arteta happy to sit back and dictate from the centre circle, allowing Ramsey to furrow forward- and vice versa. But inside 45 seconds, Arteta pressed Agustin high up the pitch and robbed him of possession, before slotting a through ball to the onrushing Ramsey. For reasons that escape me, Ramsey delayed his shot with only Vorm to beat and bafflingly allowed the ball to travel slightly away from his body, forcing him to slice a gilt edged chance high, wide and not very handsome. A very poor miss.
Yet Swansea, with their fleet footed wing duo of Dyer and Sinclair, offered plenty for Arsenal`s full backs to think about. But it was Agustin who patrolled over to the right flank and sent in a conniving cross to the penalty area, Danny Graham edged just ahead of Per Mertesacker and toe poked towards goal. Szczesny brilliantly adjusted his feet, changed direction and flung himself low down for a cracking stop. But the Gunners still looked very much on top and were again inches away from taking the lead when Arshavin`s clever through ball saw Walcott burn past Taylor through onto the Swans goal, Vorm got the merest of touches to Walcott`s finish, which slowed the ball`s progress towards the line sufficiently to see Stephen Caulker clear off the line.
What was quite remarkable was that, even in that life or death, goal line clearance moment, Caulker still wouldn`t use his left foot for that clearance, instead twisting his body to use his right and happily colliding with the post and hurting himself. It beggars belief that a professional footballer won`t use his weak foot to make the most unostentatious of clearances. He even preferred to cause himself physical pain than to use his left foot. Gibbs was similarly guilty in this regard later in the half, ignoring a simple pass with his right foot, preferring to put Szczesny under immense pressure in his own six yard area. Luckily for Gibbs, Szczesny was able to Cruyff turn his way out of the danger.
Swansea continued to provide enough off a threat to keep everyone alert. Neil Taylor`s cross from the left fooled everybody and rolled heart stoppingly across Swansea`s six yard box. Arsenal`s early verve rather sagged, with Caulker and Ashley Williams providing a sturdy Maginot line in front of the Swansea goal. But Arsenal did get their breakthrough in surreal circumstances five minutes before half time. Walcott turned on the edge of the area and his left foot shot deflected into the arms of Vorm. In his anxiety to get Swansea moving, Vorm had a momentary brain fart and rolled the ball against the legs of his own defender. I really can`t make out who he was actually trying to get the ball to, but in any case it ricocheted very nicely into the path of Andrey Arshavin, who nonchalantly rolled the ball in from a very tight angle, for his first goal since March 19. It was a slice of serendipity that the club has badly missed in its opening games.
The second half saw Arsenal, still scarred by early season results, retreat into their shells slightly. This in turn encouraged Sinclair and Dyer onto the Gunners back four. Early in the second half, Sinclair found space in a central role, Mertesacker backed off and Sinclair progressed to the edge of Arsenal`s area, before Laurent Koscielny cynically took him out. Sinclair clipped the crossbar with the resulting free kick. Not to be outdone, it was Arsenal`s turn to strike the woodwork. Arshavin found van Persie on the edge of the Swans area; he brilliantly rolled Williams and Gunter, eking out space for a right foot shot which hit the outside of the post. A good example of a player that worked on his weaker foot to his advantage.
Sagna`s cross caused consternation in the Welsh side`s penalty area just a minute later, with Williams and Vorm leaving the ball to one another, but van Persie didn`t gamble at the back post and the ball drifted wide. At this point, Wenger was rather forced into a change by the threat of Sinclair and Dyer. Despite being one of Arsenal`s more potent attacking threats, Arshavin was withdrawn for Yossi Benayoun. The manager explained afterwards that this was as Benayoun offered something "more dynamic." Which is a diplomatic way of saying that "he`s not a lazy bastard like Arshavin is." In fact, Arsenal`s deference to the visitors` threat showed in all substitutions, with the more physical Chamakh on for van Persie and the less enterprising Coquelin replacing Frimpong.
Chamakh`s physicality very nearly bought another goal too, when Ramsey`s searching pass found Gibbs on the left, he pinged in an accurate cross which Chamakh climbed above Williams to head goalwards, only for Vorm to save. The last 15 minutes were edgy and tense, with the Gunners dropping back and "trying to get over the line" in the manager`s words. Quite understandable given the events of our last two league games. Swansea nearly snatched an equaliser right at the death when Szczesny, for once, made a meal of his attempt to punch Gunter`s corner under pressure from Williams. The ball fell to Graham inside the six yard box with Szczesny grounded, but he could only swivel and send the ball over the bar, to the collective relief of the chanting Arsenal hordes.
The final whistle was greeted with great relief. The performance was far from the most fluid or fulminating, but it was unlikely to ever be. Confidence takes time to rebuild and we were always going to have to scrap and work our way back. This is an important first step, a building block rather than the plateau of our season. There will be plenty of time to reforge that pyrotechnic football, but for now we need points. Badly. We got them, by hook or by crook. We might be slightly fortunate that Swansea don`t really have a striker of any note and the goal was clearly a slice of fortune. But when you look at the first goal we conceded in the Liverpool game, it was fortune due to us. Not that that will be of any comfort to Swansea, who can be pleased with an enterprising performance that gave their hosts plenty to chew on. Particularly on the fingernails. This game is money in the bank; the win is behind us, so let`s move Forward. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 26.FRIMPONG (39.Coquelin `73), 16.RAMSEY, 8.ARTETA, 14.WALCOTT, 23.ARSHAVIN (30.Benayoun `62), 10.v.PERSIE (29.Chamakh `80). Unused; 9.J-Y.Park, 11.A.Santos, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday September 11 2011
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