Arsenal 0 Swansea City 2
I wrote on Friday that Arsenal`s recent away draws would be better judged in the light of proceeding home results. I think we can agree that that went well. Pre match I watched Chelsea`s malaise beamed back onto the Arsenal Tavern screens, their despair burned onto LCD display for a crowd of cheering patrons. Usually Chelsea`s misery is my meat, but somehow I felt to delight in their plight would be premature. Arsene made some changes to the side that drew with Goodison on a bitterly cold day in North London.
Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs came in for the injured Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna. Lukas Podolski came back from illness and was awarded his chance as a centre forward, with Gervinho and Walcott flanking him. I think the idea was that the front three would form a liquid, interchanging unit. It ended up looking more of a grey sludge of inertia. Neither of the three, as individuals or as a collective, produced much for the Swans defence to trouble themselves with.
The atmosphere and the performance was flatter than the Netherlands from the off. Swansea made hay with their patient passing game in a way we just couldn`t. Confidence is fragile and the main outlet for Arsenal`s passing appeared to be backwards to Vermaelen and Mertesacker. I still think Arteta and Wilshere are adjusting to playing together. Wilshere plays higher up the pitch than Diaby was doing earlier in the season and Arteta often looks isolated. This is exacerbated when we look as bereft as we did yesterday because Wilshere`s youthful enthusiasm sees him move even higher up the pitch to try and make things happen, rather than coming from deep and building play.
Arteta also prefers to play slightly from the left of central midfield where he enjoyed such imperious form in the late summer and early autumn. Wilshere`s return has seen him shift to the right, where I think he`s slightly less comfortable. Arsenal are still trying to work a balance further forward and the shape has been different in the last few games. Walcott has started wide but often ends as a nominal striker with Cazorla drifting towards the right flank.
Swansea nearly took the lead early on as they took the game to Arsenal, bossing possession. Davies` low cross was controlled on the spin by Shecter and he fed Rangel running in from right back. Szczesny beat away his first powerful effort and was then up smartly to paw the rebound away too. The Gunners created little of note, Jenkinson`s cross was met by a Cazorla header, comfortably saved by Tremmel. The Swans visibly grew as Arsenal`s malaise dug its heels in and went from a rut to a stone groove.
Rangel`s long ball from right back was flicked on by Michu on the halfway line, Vermaelen was caught napping as the ball ran through to Nathan Dyer. Dyer made a beeline for goal, but Vermaelen made amends with a fantastic last ditch block. Jonathan de Guzman whipped a free kick onto the roof of Szczesny`s net after Arteta had bundled Michu over. But at half time, a gentle chorus of boos (from those that could even be bothered to boo) punctuated a disappointing half. Perhaps the most uplifting part of the whole day was listening to the ever charming Bob Wilson interviewed on the pitch at half time. His every thought drew applause from a home crowd desperate for something to applaud.
The Gunners appeared to inject a little more pace into their play early in the second half and vaguely, kind of pinned Swansea back for 15 minutes or so. I think. Maybe the dreariness of our performance for most of the other 75 minutes made that spell look promising in merely relative terms. Wilshere dribbled into the Swans box and fed Cazorla, his low left foot shot was comfortably saved. Cazorla tried his luck from distance with his left foot. Podolski almost unwittingly made a routine save less comfortable when he slightly deflected the Spaniard`s shot, but not enough to trouble Tremell.
But Swansea were hardly shrinking in deference to Arsenal`s improvement. The impressive Rangel glided between Walcott and Cazorla all too easily from the right and sashayed into the Arsenal area, another firm Szczesny stop at the front post denied him. The away team nearly shot themselves in the foot when Jonathan de Guzman`s pass to Chico Flores was overhit, substitute Olivier Giroud looked to be clean on goal as a result, but Flores made a last ditch, toe ended saving tackle. When Arteta`s hopeful cross was headed out by Ashley Williams, Cazorla warmed Tremell`s palms with a stinging left foot volley that was well held. The Swans keeper hadn`t even been forced to parry any of Arsenal`s rare attempts on goal.
Laudrup made an astute substitution when he brought Luke Moore into the fray for Itay Shecter. He immediately gave Swansea a focus, a sounding boards for their promising counter attacks. He played a neat one two with fellow sub Dwight Tiendalli, only for Szczesny to make another sprawling save. Arsenal briefly threatened when Chamberlain`s deflected cross was met by the onrushing Vermaelen, but his firm header was well held by Trendell. Arsenal were huffing and puffing and Swansea sensed their chance for some rope a dope.
Chico Flores found Michu, free to drop off of the front line between Arsenal`s defence and midfield with Moore playing as more of a target man. Michu collected the ball unchallenged and played a neat one two with Luke Moore, Michu skipped in behind the Arsenal defence and bent a sumptuous finish above the despairing dive of Szczesny. The Pole in the goal couldn`t save our hides this time. Arsenal tried in vain to attack for an equaliser but played into Swansea`s hands in doing so. Carl Jenkinson found support hard to come by on the right hand side with Walcott having already made a central run. Nathan Dyer bullied him towards his own goal.
Finding no Arsenal player behind him in his enforced retreat and with Szczesny looking like a lonely beach towel as you battle the tide in an aggressive sea, Jenkinson stumbled and the ball rolled to Michu. The Spaniard had the freedom of the Arsenal half to nonchalantly stride towards goal, before picking his spot and putting the seal on a deserved victory. Only Rosicky made a vague intonation to try and catch him. Everybody else knew the game was up. Szczesny launched the ball into club level in frustration. Boos rang out around the Emirates.
Whilst it`s clear that this is an Arsenal team still trying to find themselves and each other, the problems seem to be deeper than that at the moment. From the first minute we looked devoid of inspiration and energy. Frankly, the game looked like a grinding chore to the players, who rely so much on confidence and joie de vivre to make their style work. Expressions were hangdog, shoulders were slumped, both in the roomy seats and on the plush green pitch. Once again, we were unable to introduce any kind of chaos element from the bench to change a game that didn`t so much drift away from us, as yawn, scratch its bollocks and wearily walk away from us. Even in some of our more inglorious defeats over the last few years, I`m sure I recall a chance, a refereeing decision, or something to at least make you think, "Well if that had gone our way, who knows." But the simple fact is, Arsenal lost 2-0 at home to a midtable side and their goalkeeper was easily their best player. LD.
ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE (7.Rosicky `80), 19.S.CAZORLA, 14.WALCOTT, 27.GERVINHO (15.Chamberlain `67), 9.PODOLSKI (12.Giroud `67). Unused: 16.Ramsey, 18.Squillaci, 22.Coquelin, 24.Mannone.
SWANSEA CITY: 25.TREMELL, 22.RANGEL, 6.WILLIAMS (c), 4.FLORES, 33.DAVIES, 24.KI, 20.DE GUZMAN (21.Tiendalli `75), 7.BRITTON, 12.DYER, 9.MICHU, 17.SHECTER (19.Moore `67). Unused: 13.Cornell, 15.Monk, 18.Richards, 26.Augustien, 34.Donnelly.