Arsenal:7 Newcastle United:3 Match Report

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Goals: Walcott (20), Ba (44), Oxlade-Chamberlain (50), Mervaux (59), Podolski (64), Ba (69), Walcott (73), Giroud (84), Giroud (87), Walcott (90+1)

Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Koscielny (CB), Gibbs (LB),  Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Podolski (LF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (RF), Walcott (CF).

Arsenal demolished Newcastle United in what looked like a water polo match rather than a football one as far as defending was concerned. The visitors equalized three times before completely surrendering in the last 20 minutes, with Theo Walcott grabbing a hat-trick.

As Wenger agreed afterwards, this was one of those games where the scoreline did not quite reflect the balance of play. When Newcastle equalized for the third time with 20 minutes to go, many Arsenal fans would just be more than content with a narrow victory, as they understandably placed no faith in their team’s ability to defend a lead. The game was tied at 3-3 when the Newcastle manager Alan Pardew yelled at his players from the touch line “No more, no more!”. He probably meant “Concede no more”. Yet, perhaps due to the exhaustion from their midweek clash at Old Trafford where they also scored 3 goals without claiming a single point, his team responded to this instruction by collapsing in style.

The scoreline, as mentioned, told little of the game. In the whole of the first half, Arsenal were extremely passive off the ball, allowing Newcastle to knock it around with confidence. Instead of pressing high up the pitch, the home side seemed to prefer retreating into a 4-4-1-1 shape with two banks of four and trying to release Walcott quickly when they regained possession. Bar two occasions (one of which resulted in a goal by Walcott), this one-dimensional tactic was personally painful for me to watch, as the whole Arsenal play in the first half looked like a one big miscarried counterattack.

After an opening as flat and tasteless as a banquet at a Norwegian wedding, Arsenal opened the scoring in the 20th minute, when Podolski released Walcott behind on the left with a brilliant ball. As the Newcastle left back Santon played him onside, Walcott raced into the box and delivered a peach of a finish to the far corner which was textbook Thierry Henry.

Arsenal v Newcastle United - Barclays Premier League

Despite taking the lead, Arsenal did not switch gears and continued to look passive off the ball. They rarely closed down the Newcastle build-up and gained possession in areas where they could hurt the visitors. The chalkboard below illustrates how shy Arsenal were in demanding the ball back from Newcastle high up the pitch, with only one tackle in Newcastle half in the whole first half. The home team’s aggression higher up the pitch, however, increased considerably in the second half, especially led by Podolski on their left forward position (see the second chalkboard below).

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Arsenal’s passive attitude off the ball during the first half rendered it impossible to raise the tempo as it increased the spells Newcastle kept the ball, and when the ball was regained, it was deep in the Arsenal’s half. Furthermore, with Walcott being always more interested in running behind rather than dropping a little deep to hold the ball for more mature attacks, the ball was lost quickly with increasingly predictable and rushed attempts to play Walcott behind. Yet, Arsenal could have extended their lead when Walcott did get behind, but wasted the chance with a tame shot with only Krul to beat.

When Newcastle equalized 3 minutes from half time, it surprised nobody as Arsenal were asking for trouble leaning back too much. Obertan cut inside from the left and was fouled somewhat needlessly by Sagna. From the resulting free-kick, Wilshere in the wall made himself even smaller than he actually is: Demba Ba’s shot got a deflection from his head and wrong-footed Szczesny.

Arsenal started the second half with considerably more energy and intent to press higher up the pitch, especially with Podolski making a brilliant effort to win the ball back in Newcastle half. When the German intercepted a throw-in deep in Newcastle half, Cazorla played a diagonal ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, and the youngster fired low and hard to the bottom corner past Krul’s dive. Newcastle immediately hit back again with annoying ease. Obertan tricked his way past Sagna and drove to the byline. Wilshere completely switched off and did not track at all Marveaux’s run to the far post, despite noticing Gibbs was drawn to Cisse coming inside: the French midfielder finished Obertan’s low cross into an empty net.

Podolski succesful tackles

Both teams threw caution into the wind: The tempo was at nose-bleeding levels now, especially with Arsenal changing their passive attitude completely and executing an effective press higher up the pitch. Wilshere made amends to his mistake in Newcastle’s equalizer by picking Tiote’s pocket in Newcastle half, exchanging passes with Podolski and driving to the byline. His chipped cross to the far post was turned onto the bar by Coloccini, and Podolski headed home from half a yard.

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The home fans were praying for Arsenal to hold onto their lead longer than 10 minutes, but it did not happen. Demba Ba headed a clearance to Marveaux’ path, and the Frenchman broke from midfield, tracked somewhat half-heartedly by Wilshere. Instead of choosing Obertan as the easy passing option on his left, Marveaux turned at the edge of the box and delivered a brilliant ball with the outside of his foot to Ba who had sneaked past Gibbs at the far post: the striker finished on the volley to equalize for the third time.

The game was looking like a juvenile fight between two immature kids, one immediately undoing what the other just did. Arsenal restored their lead right away. Podolski held Sagna’s ball in front of the box, and slipped Gibbs behind. The left back cut the ball back to Podolski, who missed, but Walcott did not miss despite being surrounded by defenders: it was another great finish.

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Arsene Wenger then sent in Giroud replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain and moved Walcott to the right. The regular flow of the game would dictate Newcastle to equalize again, but Theo Walcott created two and scored one more in the last 10 minutes. First, a Beckhamesque pinpoint cross from the right had Giroud hammer home with a diving header. Then a chaotic Walcott dribble inside from the right was intercepted by Tiote, but Giroud picked up the loose ball, muscled his way past Colloccini and blasted it at the near post. In the extra time, Walcott played a free-kick short to Wilshere near the left corner flag, but instead of wasting time by the flag, he tricked his way past two defenders, ignored a trip to get back on his feet and cheekily chipped the ball past Krul from an impossible angle for his hat-trick.

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The emphatic scoreline emphasized the best and worst of Arsenal this season. The ease that Newcastle kept equalizing before they were physically very tired and completely collapsed was worrisome from an Arsenal point of view. I will discuss some tactical aspects (the defensive problems with the Wilshere/Arteta axis and the dilemma Walcott presents as a centerforward) in a separate post.

Happy New Year to all who are reading this!!

Wigan: 0 Arsenal:1 Match Report

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Goal: Arteta (60, pen)

Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB),  Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Podolski (LF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (RF), Walcott (CF).

Arsenal got all three points after a cagey affair at the DW stadium and achieved three consecutive Premiere League victories for the first time this season. In terms of the quality of the performance, this was far from a stellar display from Arsenal, but at the moment nothing but three points matters to build some confidence and momentum.

Arsene Wenger had the same starting line-up that ripped Reading apart five days ago with their slick passing and movement, but Wigan had done their homework much better than their fellow strugglers.  Suffering from a deep injury crisis with centerbacks Alcaraz and Caldwell unavailable, Roberto Martinez placed McCarthy at the tip of a three-centerback formation (3-5-2) and gave him the licence to move up the pitch to help their build-up when Wigan gained possession. The midfielder, though initially uncomfortable at this hybrid role, did a decent job, especially by effectively squeezing the space that Cazorla usually thrives. The Spaniard, for the first time this season, had zero attempts on goal all game long. He did not have a particularly bad game, yet he was far from his usual self pulling all the strings. The Wigan midfield and front two also pressed quite effectively, especially in the first half, and did not allow Arsenal to settle into their usual passing game. ox

The main Arsenal threat on the day was Oxlade-Chamberlain at the right wing, who had a very energetic and aggressive performance (Podolski on the left was completely lethargic, almost on strike). It was the promising teenager who had their first chance in the 8th minute. When a clever Cazorla flick gave Arteta the keys of the vast space that was Wigan’s midfield, the Spaniard pushed forward to release Oxlade on the right edge of the box, but the winger’s venomous shot was saved by Al Habsi at the near post.

Wigan, though, were passing the ball quite well despite the somewhat heavy surface, and they almost took the lead shortly after the 20th minute when Di Santo picked Kone’s run behind Mertesacker. The Ivorian left the big German for dead with his pace, yet he shot terribly wide when facing only Szczesny.  Wigan had the tidier build-up, but their forward moves were usually wasted by the two most terrible wingbacks I have seen in the same team, Stam on the right, and Beausejour on the left.  Stam, in particular, easily found space on the right due to Podolski not tracking him properly, but his delivery failed him time and time again.

The second half started with Oxlade Chamberlain seemingly having received clear instructions to attack Beausejour on Wigan’s left, and he did that brilliantly. First, he skinned Wigan’s left wingback, but his low dangerous cross was cut out by Boyce. Minutes later, when Oxlade was played behind Beausejour by Cazorla, he delivered a precise cutback to Walcott, but the “contract-rebel-striker-wanna-be” underlined what separates him from top-class poachers with his tame shot, which was saved by Al Habsi. Arsenal’s pressure down Wigan’s left finally paid off when Cazorla slipped Walcott behind Beausejour on the right edge of the box. The Chilean should have stood off since Figueora was covering, but he made contact from behind with his leg tangling with Walcott’s. Arteta was cool as a cucumber from the spot, sending Al Habsi the wrong way.

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After falling behind, Wigan started attacking with more numbers, yet their lack of quality up-front was telling. There were only two occasions when Szczesny was troubled. First, Kone cut inside Mertesacker from Wigan’s left, and driled a low shot denied by the Polish goalkeeper. Around the 70th minute, after a delightful Wigan build-up, Jones fired a missile from outside the box that missed Szczesny’s left post by a small margin.

In the last 15 minutes, Arsene Wenger replaced Oxlade with Ramsey and Podolski with Coquelin, and shifted Cazorla to wide left in order to neutralize Wigan’s dominance in the middle of the park. The move was useful as Wigan found it harder to carry the ball forward, but Arsenal also lost their outlets to keep the ball in Wigan’s half, since Walcott was completely useless in that regard. In the dying minutes, Arsenal closed the game without too much fuss and won massive 3 points which moved them above Spurs to third place (though Chelsea have two games in hand).

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One final remark on Walcott playing as the central striker. After his acceptable and almost promising performance against Reading, Walcott’s display today reminded all the aspects of his game that makes him quite unsuitable for the role (see the above dashboard which shows how little he was involved). His supporters say that his pace and finishing ability is enough reason that he should play as the central striker. Yet, his pace is neutralized with deep and physical defences especially when Arsenal play at home. Finishing ability, on the other hand, is not only about how well you finish when you break behind defenders with the ball fully under your control. Finishing is mostly about sweeping home cutbacks under pressure, throwing yourself at the end of a low and hard cross into the 6 yard box, or holding off challenges with a defender on your back to turn and shoot from the edge of the box.  Moreover, Walcott does not have the mental and physical tenacity to hold the ball up front to provide relief to the team on less than perfect weather/pitch conditions against tougher opposition. This is not to say that he should not be deployed there occasionally, when there are no other options (Giroud was ill today). But in the longer term, if he stays with the club, Walcott needs to go back to the right wing where he is most useful to the team, and Wenger must buy a proper “real’ striker.

Reading:2 Arsenal:5 Match Report

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Goals: Podolski (14), Cazorla (32), Cazorla (34), Cazorla (60), LeFondre (66), Kebe (71), Walcott (80)

Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB),  Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Podolski (LF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (RF), Walcott (CF).

Led by the majestic Cazorla, Arsenal swept aside a helpless Reading side that offered less resistance than feta cheese especially in the first half. After the midweek debacle in Capital One Cup at Bradford (which was not covered here out of sheer pain), this was exactly what Arsenal needed to regroup when they are under attack from everyone and their mothers.

From a tactical point of view, the surprising aspect of Arsenal’s line-up was Theo Walcott starting as the central striker, flanked by Podolski on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. His threat of pace and lateral movement staying high up the pitch did provide a big contrast to Giroud who cannot help but drop deep to get involved in build-up play. As such, Reading centerbacks faced something different as they were not able to push higher to squeeze the space Cazorla thrives. As a result, the Spanish playmaker had his most devastating performance so far this season.

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On the right flank, Oxlade was excellent in the first half, showing remarkable directness and pace whenever he got the ball. It was him creating the first chance following a good run and shot from outside the box which was parried away by Federici with difficulty. Reading also threatened early in the game with Pogrebnyak going behind Gibbs, but his cutback was missed by Kebe in the 6 yard box.

Arsenal were playing with a speed and quality of movement which was completely missing since the away game at West Ham, and Reading were  not able to cope with their attacking intent. The remarkable ease that Arsenal built up attacks was mainly because none of the two Reading strikers (Hunt and Pogrebnyak) were putting any pressure on Arteta (who completed 93 of his attempted 102 passes), and their two wide midfielders were not tracking Sagna and especially Gibbs properly. Arsenal took the lead shortly before the 15th minute mark when Gibbs took on Kebe who gave him a lot of room and did nothing to prevent his low cross into the box. Podolski cushioned down the cross with his right foot and blasted it home with his left in the same movement with Reading defenders barely visible.

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Walcott’s good movement and his staying high up the pitch indeed allowed Arsenal midfield a lot of room to build attacks, but Reading neither pressing nor keeping a solid defensive shape also helped Arsenal as the visitors carved open Reading almost every time they attacked. It should have been 2-0 soon after as Walcott raced behind to Cazorla’s quick ball but could not beat Federici one on one.

A difference from recent games was Cazorla and Wilshere being able to run with the ball with menace and taking on opposition to turn attacks into dangerous situations quickly. Wilshere had 4 (out of 6) succesful dribblings, Cazorla had 7 (out of 8). With Arteta providing all the cover needed (3 succesful tackles and 4 interceptions) and Walcott stretching Reading, Wilshere and Cazorla ran the attacking show in midfield.

It was 3-0 before the half with two Cazorla goals in quick succession. First, Arteta switched play to the left with a diagonal under no pressure, and Podolski attacked the hapless Cummings to deliver a peach of a cross in between the two centerbacks, which Cazorla finished with a diving header. Minutes later, Walcott had all the time in the world inside the box to look up and chip a ball to the far post. When Gibbs headed it back into the 6 yard box, Cazorla controlled the ball with his back to the goal and swiveled to ram it home.

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The second half started with the same Arsenal menace. First, Wilshere played Walcott through but his shot was cleared off the line by Mariappa just before Cazorla tapped in. But the Spaniard claimed his first hat-trick for Arsenal after a brilliant move started on the right by Oxlade found Wilshere who played Podolski in behind Reading defenders. The German’s cut back was tapped in by Cazorla for the most Arsenalesque goal of the season yet.

Having gone 4-0 up, Arsenal did show some signs of complaceny as two more easy chances were wasted by Walcott who really wanted a goal. The complacency soon caused damage: Gibbs played a lazy ball to Wilshere, it was intercepted by Tabb, who quickly released LeFondre. The substitute striker rounded up Szczesny before scoring. Five minutes later, it was 4-2: Robson-Kanu threaded a ball to Kebe. Podolski played the Reading midfielder onside as he was unable to stop his run when he tracked back Cummings’ overlap on the far right and Kebe finished cooly past Szczesny.

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The ease Reading scored two goals when they were dead and buried clearly raises question marks on an otherwise excellent performance, but Arsenal put the gloss back into the scoreline 10 minutes from time when the masterful Cazorla ran away with the ball from two Reading players in the blink of an eye and played a reverse ball to Walcott in the box. The contract rebel took a touch inside and drilled a left-footed shot past Federici.

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After the painful results of the past few weeks, this was a reassuring display from Arsenal, especially attacking wise. Finally, the midfield and attack moved with cohesion and fluidity. Yet, Reading’s abject defensive display also helped. It is too early to judge whether Walcott can play the  central striker role effectively before seeing him against much better defenses that will test his ability to hold the ball under physical pressure, but his performance on the day was promising. I am extremely suspicious about Walcott’s ability to play that role as I do not believe he has the necessary tenacity to lead the line, but he might prove me wrong. Time will tell.

Arsenal:2 West Bromwich Albion:0 Match Report

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Goals: Arteta (26, pen), Arteta (64, pen)

Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB),  Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Gervinho (LF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (RF), Giroud (CF).

Arsenal ended their 4-match winless run with a much improved performance compared to dismal displays of the last few weeks. They were led by the excellent Wilshere who was both combative and creative, sometimes at the same instance. Unfortunately, Cazorla’s dive to get the first of the two Arteta penalties, but not this improved performance, was the main talking point after the game.

Arsenal started the game with much more hunger, freshness and intensity compared to the Swansea game. The main difference was their relentless pressure on the ball, quicker ball circulation and true width on both flanks. The home side did not give West Brom any time and space on the ball. West Brom’s midfield missed the injured Claudio Yacob’s energy and dynamism as Brunt, Mulumbu and Morrison were utterly dominated by Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere all game long (at times the Arsenal trio were as comfortable as they were in a training exercise). Unlike recent games, no West Brom midfielder specifically dropped on Arteta to disrupt Arsenal’s ball circulation at its source. With Arsenal applying good pressure from the front, Arteta was never exposed defensively, which enabled Wilshere to push forward and orchestrate attacks freely. Wilshere had 48 passes completed in the game, 31 of those in the attacking third and 31 passes being forward passes. If anything, this game showed why Arsenal need to press from the front to build any pressure and play the game they like to play.

Despite the encouraging start, however, Arsenal’s main clear-cut chance in the opening 20 minutes was Gervinho’s fluffed shot when Giroud’s physical presence made it difficult for Myhill to punch away a Cazorla corner. There was also a half chance when Oxlade-Chamberlain (who had his best game of the season) raced to Sagna’s ball on the right flank, yet Cazorla sliced the winger’s excellent cross wide on the volley.  Shortly after the 20th minute mark, West Brom surfaced in Arsenal’s half for the first time as Brunt’s right-footed curler missed the far post.

Perhaps, as Steve Clarke moaned about it after the game, the visitors’ game plan was to frustrate Arsenal as long as possible, banking on the nervousness that would ensue if the game went on scoreless. This ingenious plan was turned upside down in the 23rd minute when Wilshere cushioned down Olsen’s clearance in the midfield and passed the ball to Giroud in front of the West Brom box. The French striker quickly fed Cazorla’s overlapping run on the left inside the box. As Reid rushed to tackle Cazorla, the playmaker moved the ball from his left to right foot cutting inside Reid’s challenge. Replays showed clearly that there was minimal or no contact, yet the referee bought Cazorla’s dive and awarded a penalty. When Arteta scored from the penalty spot, it was Arsenal’s first penalty goal at home since April 2011. Minutes later, West Brom demanded a penalty of their own when Mertesacker handled the ball in the box after a set piece delivery, but replays showed why the referee gave a foul for Arsenal as Olsen was clearly strangling the German defender from behind when the ball was still in the air.

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The remaining of the half saw Arsenal completely controlling the game and creating further chances to extend their lead.  The home side’s favored move was Gervinho running inside off-the-ball and Cazorla overlapping Gibbs into the space that Gervinho emptied. In one such move, it was unfortunately Gervinho but not Giroud who got at the end of Cazorla’s cross as the Ivorian again showed that an 8 year old girl is more threatening in the air than the erratic winger. Yet Gervinho did a few good things as well. In the 36th minute, Gibbs and Cazorla again combined on the left and the Spaniard released Gervinho whose cut back was missed at the goal mouth by the onrushing Wilshere.

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The second half was played in a similar fashion with Arsenal never allowing West Brom any action in Arsenal’s half and continuing to create chances, mainly through Wilshere. When Giroud controlled a long Vermaalen ball inside the left channel, he fed Wilshere’s overlapping run. The midfielder’s cross to the far post was caught by Oxlade-Chamberlain on the volley, but the ball bounced off the crossbar. Then, Gibbs overlapped Cazorla on the left: his cross was met by Gervinho’s head in the box with predictable consequences. Minutes later, Wilshere’s chipped ball to Giroud got a deflection off West Brom left back Popov and presented a glorious chance to Gervinho in the 6 yard box, but the Ivorian this time had an air-kick (no, I am not kidding).

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When Arsenal finally extended their lead, it was again in controversial circumstances. Wilshere started a counterattack through Cazorla whose diagonal ball found Oxlade-Chamberlain on the far right. The winger first lost control of the ball, yet with a little nudge, he shook off Popov and burst into the box only to be upended by Brunt’s rash challenge. There was no question about the foul in the box, yet the visiting team were furious for the foul not given on Popov. Arteta did not care and executed the very same penalty again.

With the game all but won, Arsenal found further chances, the most glaring of which was wasted by the substitute Podolski in the 6 yard box after Wilshere played the striker in. West Brom continued to look subdued being able to register their first and only shot at Arsenal goal in the 85th minute through the substitute Rosenberg. It was an easy victory for Arsenal, despite being tarnished with the controversies surrounding the two penalties. Yet, the performance was infinitely better than the last week’s abomination against Swansea.

Arsenal:0 Swansea:2 Match Report

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Goals: Michu (88), Michu (90+1)

Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Jenkinson (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB),  Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Podolski (LF), Walcott (RF), Gervinho (CF).

Arsenal succumbed to a depressing home defeat against a slick-passing Swansea side with late goals from Michu.

To understand the texture, content and mood of this game, it is instructive to look at the first Swansea goal which provides a microcosm of the whole game. That goal arrived 2 minutes from normal time, although the only reason that Swansea were not already ahead comfortably by that time was Szczesny. In the 87th minute, when Kieran Gibbs received the ball on the wide left and looked up at the Arsenal players ahead of him, he saw absolutely no movement. He then did what his teammates had kept doing all game long: playing a square ball to a teammate closeby. That teammate was Rosicky (who had replaced the tiring Wilshere minutes earlier). The Czech, with all the rustiness of someone who has not played a single minute of competitive football since summer, played a hopeful yet not purposeful through-ball in the general direction of Giroud. The French striker (another substitute who replaced the woeful Podolski) was actually running towards Rosicky. That’s why the through-ball made no sense at all, as so few things Arsenal did on the day.

When Swansea intercepted this ball, they immediately made the space bigger by using all the width of the pitch, and started knocking the ball around with impressive ease and crispness. During precisely 19 one or two touch passes, the ball was circulated left, right, up and down with the two centerbacks (Flores and Williams), the two full backs (Rangel and Davies), the two central midfielders (Britton and Ki), the two front men (Luke Moore and Michu) and the winger Nathan Dyer all taking touches within a space of 50 seconds. The ball was finally played to Chico Flores with the centerback moving with the ball towards the right of the center circle, into the space emptied by the right back Rangel (who himself was busy running behind Gibbs). Flores looked up and played a precise ball to Michu in Arsenal’s half. The Spaniard’s first touch was not even good. But when Vermaalen’s tackle deflected the ball to Luke Moore, his one touch ball released Michu, as the striker was already behind Vermaalen in that split second. The impressive signing from Rayo Vallecano finished past Szczesny with sublime confidence.

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Three minutes later in extra time, when Arsenal were desperately pushing forward for an equalizer, Jenkinson was pushed back with the ball under Nathan Dyer’s pressure and lost the ball. Jenkinson should have just turned with the ball towards the touchline, putting his body in between Dyer and the ball instead of running towards the Arsenal goal. That’s just football basics. If he had done that, he would either win a free-kick or a throw-in. Michu raced to the loose ball, facing no one in Arsenal’s half but Szczesny, and applied another precise finish. It was nothing less than what Swansea deserved.

The above descriptions of the two Swansea goals basically tell the whole story of the game. Except the first 15 minutes of the second half, Arsenal lacked any desire, any intelligent movement off the ball, penetration, quick passing and intensity. Swansea settled into their intricate and delightful passing game from the first minute and they were denied in the first half only by Szczesny who made a double save from Rangel and Vermaalen who made a last ditch tackle to stop Dyer after the winger raced to Michu’s flick over Mertesacker at the half hour mark.  The only meaningful Arsenal danger of the first half was when Podolski and Gibbs combined on the left and Gibbs sent in a dangerous cross into the box. That would be a good enough cross for any real striker to head the ball into the net from 8 yards, but when your striker is Gervinho (Wenger rested Giroud until the 67th minute) what you get is a comically weak header towards the corner flag. During the whole of first 45 minutes, Arsenal’s front three (Podolski, Walcott and Gervinho) were all dreadful, losing every ball played to them and, despite constantly switching positions, not managing any effective movement.

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Arsenal’s midfield trio, Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere, though quite impressive on paper, were completely subdued with the energy, purpose and technical skill displayed by Swansea’s midfield trio of Britton, Ki and and De Guzman, especially in the first half. What was quite sad from an Arsenal point of view, was that the three key members of this slick-passing Swansea side, Michu, Chico Flores and the excellent Rangel, alltogether did cost the Welsh outfit less money than what Arsene Wenger paid Fenerbahce for Andre Santos, the Brazilian left back who does not start a game even when Gibbs is injured. Talk about building attractive sides on a tight budget!

What is also sad is to see Arteta and Cazorla being played down to the ground every three days with no alternatives to give these players a little breather. Arsene Wenger had explained the change of heart on the Nuri Sahin loan deal with Arsenal being very well-stocked in the central midfield area. That does not seem to be the case at all. However, the squad situation for the front positions is not only tight, it is simply pathetic. Giroud is the only real striker. Gervinho is an erratic winger who is more frustrating than a mosquito and most of the time he does not even look like a footballer. Podolski is inexplicably immobile and disinterested on the wide left, and Walcott seems to play well only when he feels that he needs to showcase his talents for the upcoming January transfer window. cazorla

Arsenal did improve somewhat in the first 15 minutes of the second half, especially with Cazorla and Wilshere driving the team forward, yet Swansea always maintained their threat. Giroud’s introduction instead of Podolski with 25 minutes left did not really make much of an improvement, although the Frenchman almost broke free into the box chasing a misplaced back pass, but Chico Flores made a last ditch tackle. Referee Clattenburg correctly dismissed Arsenal’s penalty appeals.

What has become painfully clear after home games against QPR, Fulham and Swansea is that now mid-table or even relegation zone teams come to the Emirates for three points having already sensed that there is not much to be afraid of this Arsenal team. As such, despite Tremmel being forced to saves from Cazorla on two different occasions, it was Szczesny who had to make the more difficult saves, the most troubling one a point-blank save from the substitute Tiendalli when he combined with Rangel to cut through Arsenal’s left like a hot knife through butter.

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Overall, Arsenal seem to be bleeding slowly down the table with depressingly flat, if not outright dismal performances. There is no question that this is the weakest Arsenal side (especially in the attacking department) of Arsene Wenger’s long reign at the club. The question is if Wenger can still finish in the top four with this bunch. If he does, it will not be too surprising, given that despite all the points dropped, Arsenal are still within 5 points off the third place. However, it seems that things can get much worse than this, before they get any better.

Wenger’s complaint of a lack of consistency is also a little curious. Except beating two 10-man opponents at home (Spurs and QPR), Arsenal have not won a single Premiere League game, and have not played well in a single game either, since the away victory at West Ham on October 6th (again bar the Spurs game). Ironically, the team seems to be quite consistent in delivering mediocre or dreadful performances.