Goals: Monreal (74), Gervinho (90)
Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Fabianski (GK), Jenkinson (RB), Koscielny (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Monreal (LB), Diaby (CM) Arteta (CM), Cazorla (CM), Walcott (RF), Oxlade-Chamberlain (LF), Giroud (CF).
Late goals from Monreal and Gervinho gave a gritty Arsenal golden three points in Wales.
Wenger made 3 changes from the starting line-up that beat Bayern Munich in midweek. Diaby replaced Ramsey in midfield. Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the left wing with Cazorla shifted to the advanced central role instead of Rosicky. Monreal replaced Gibbs at the left back position.
Unlike my prediction in my match preview, Wenger preferred to play with two direct wingers, which indicated that his plan was to leave the ball to Swansea, keep a compact shape defensively, and attack in a more direct manner just like he did against Bayern. Swansea looked on top in the first 20 minutes, creating chances through Rangel and Michu. In those opening 20 minutes, Arsenal dropped a little too deep with Oxlade and Wilshere tracking the mobile Swansea fullbacks, which meant that when Arsenal gained possession, Diaby and Arteta found it difficult to find the forward outlet ball.
Arsenal shuffled their shape a bit after the first 20 minutes and started pressing higher up the pitch, an effort led by the excellent Cazorla. Diaby and the two Arsenal fullbacks also pushed a bit further up and Swansea suddenly lost their passing lanes in a cagey midfield battle. The home side missing their main ball playing center-back Flores, who is crucial in their build-up from the back, also helped Arsenal disrupt Swansea’s fluid passing.
Arsenal did create two chances in the first half, both through individual skills by Oxlade-Chamberlain with the youngster hitting the crossbar twice. Walcott, on the right wing, was quite ineffective offensively, but the exhaustion from midweek must be considered as a possible reason. The necessity of tracking back the Swansea left back Davies was another.
The visitors looked solid, patient and disciplined defensively just like they did against Bayern. The good shape, however, almost always comes at the cost of less fluidity. But as mentioned, I believe that was Wenger’s plan from the start. Keep the good fight and shape, do not concede a cheap goal, and make use of a few of your chances to win. With the back four receiving good protection from the midfield cover, just it was the case in the Bayern game Koscielny and Mertesacker had the time and ability to read the game in front of them and looked assured, a much welcome change from what we saw most of this season. As mentioned in Michael Cox’s excellent analysis Swansea didn’t manage to record a single shot on target, despite their 619 passes. Indeed, Opta have been unable to find a more extreme example of possession without penetration, going back through seven years of Premier League matches.
This was a game that fit Arsenal’s right back Jenkinson perfectly. His hunger, energy and devotion to the fighting cause makes me think that Arsenal have an athletic would-be-season-ticket-holder fan as their right back. He raced up and down the wing tirelessly and was more of a wide offensive threat than Walcott, who often preferred to drift inside to connect with a Giroud flick. Giroud, though, was not having a great game himself either. He was not able to dominate Swansea’s third choice centerback Monk, again unlike what I predicted in the preview.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, and Arsenal looking somewhat toothless in attack, Wenger took of the mediocre Diaby (who could not penetrate from deeper areas or messed it up when he did) and replaced him with Ramsey, which brought immediate “vertical” energy to Arsenal’s midfield. Oxlade, who faded away after a good first half, was also replaced by Gervinho. The Ivorian looked much more effective than his usual frustrating self, but still the end product seemed missing. Arsenal, though, had Cazorla to win the game.
With a little more than 15 minutes to go, when an Arsenal corner was cleared, Arteta and Monreal pressed Dyer quicky and regained possession. Mertesacker left the ball to Cazorla, and the Spaniard master, whose tireless positive energy makes me want to hug the screen, started a diagonal dribble along the left edge of the box (remember the dribble in Arsenal’s third goal by Giroud during the 5-2 defeat of Spurs in the NLD), and fired a low cross to the 6 yard box. Giroud took a terrible first touch and almost cleared the danger, but he managed to poke the ball to Monreal for the new left back to drill home his first goal for Arsenal.
The last 15 minutes was my favorite part of the game simply because, unlike what you would expect from this season’s Arsenal, the visitors looked very assured and comfortable defensively, and did not allow Swansea to create any chances. In fact, after falling behind the home side registered only one attempt on goal, and they completed the game with zero shots on target. In the extra time, Arsenal broke forward from a Swansea corner, and Ramsey found the unmarked Gervinho for the Ivorian to secure the all three points.