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.
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.
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.
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.
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.