I was fortunate to not have seen this match live. I have, however, heard and read all about it. Statistically, this is Arsenal’s worst result vs. Swansea – further reading shows that we had not lost to Swansea at home since before 1981, back in the Highbury days. So, what happened?
It was a whole combination of things. Arsene Wenger wanted to keep the open, expansive attacking play that Arsenal use regularly at home, as opposed to being more defensive and pragmatic and trying to protect our league position by not losing – both Manchester City and Manchester United had recorded wins by the time Arsenal played. Being more defensive would have likely yielded a poor match for the fans, as Swansea were set up in a 4-6-0 formation with no forward at all (thus setting themselves up for at least a point by simply defending to the hilt). However, it is important that, at this stage of the season, when both of your major rivals for the runner-up spot in the league have already won that weekend, in my opinion anyway, that the team sets up in a defensive way to get at least 1 point to minimise the damage – that did not happen.
Swansea have done smash-and-grab work on Arsenal now twice this season – Gomis also scored late to give them a 2-1 win at the Liberty B.C. (Before Coquelin – dark times indeed). In light of that result, knowing that Swansea have the ability to score late goals against us, which has happened a few times before, like in the 1-2 result at the Liberty in the 2013-14 campaign, where current Sp*r Ben Davies scored in the last 10 minutes, or the home result from last campaign, where Flamini got an own goal in the 90th minute and robbed Arsenal of the 3 points, one has to wonder again why the team was not set up to defend more at the end of the match, when prior experience has shown that Swansea have a recent habit of scoring or forcing late goals against Arsenal.
The substitutions didn’t help the need to be defensively resolute late into the match. In my opinion, if you’re still 0-0 after more than 60 minutes, especially against a team that has come to defend, with a goalkeeper who has played well up to that point with a point to prove (Lukasz Fabianski), bringing on two more offensive-minded players in Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott is not going to help, especially when two of the team’s better defensive players in Olivier Giroud (watch his work from defence from corners and set pieces as an example of this) and Francis Coquelin (one of the most successful defensive midfielders in the league this season statistically) are the players to make way. Theo is known for being poor defensively and Jack has a focus, probably correctly, on his attacking game – his defending is often a bit too robust and has earned him yellow cards. Within 5 minutes of Giroud coming off, Garry Monk knew the win was on for Swansea with one of Arsenal’s main attacking threats now substituted and sent on Bafetimbi Gomis on as a result. Monk, in my opinion, out-managed Wenger this time.
Moving on from this disappointing match, what’s next? A trip to Old Trafford. Yikes. I think this will be very different to the F.A. Cup match as, after Arsenal’s loss vs. Swansea on Monday night, United can now see themselves getting 3rd place away from us and will probably attack right from the kick-off. Arsene must be pragmatic in his approach – setting up the team in the same manner as he did vs. Manchester City at the Etihad would be a good start, with a strong focus on performing well defensively. According to Physioroom.com, almost all of United’s current injuries (aside from Rafael, di Maria and Carrick) will have returned, including RvP – just our luck as always! As Carrick will probably not feature, Arsenal should look to press through the middle more and target Fellaini and Herrera when they’re in possession. Arsenal might have Welbeck back for this one, which is a definite plus, but I’m still sure that Wenger will start Ramsey on the right and Giroud up top with Welbeck on the bench. The only change on the bench that I’d make is dropping Flamini for Arteta – Flamini hasn’t played many minutes recently anyway and Arteta can bring some calmness and more defensive solidity to the table than Flamini as things currently stand.
Right. That’s all for this week. COYG.