If you follow me on Twitter, then you know that I’m generally outraged at Russian commentary and commentators. The commentators generally fall into two categories: just incompetent at providing correct and interesting insight and those who are anti-Arsenal on top. There is actually a third category: neutral commentators who are pretty good at their thing, but I can count those on the fingers of one hand. Kudos to these unsung heroes.
That’s why I relish English commentary when I can get my hands on it. I mean, I can always tune into Arsenal Player, for starters, but watching the game from a Russian channel usually means there is a small lag which ruins the experience. So I have to make do with our commentators, for the most part, or watch the game on mute.
However, yesterday was that rare occasion when the Arsenal game wasn’t broadcasted live. Crystal Palace vs Manchester United was preferred for some reason, so, fuming, I rushed to find a stream. One of the streams available was from the USA channel and I had no hesitation to tune into this particular stream.
I have a soft spot for English commentary for three reasons:
- I don’t have to endure Owen, Savage and Co at all
- It presents a nice change from the meaningless babble of our commentators (yes, their English counterparts usually prove to be more competent!)
- My first experience of English commentary was an overwhelmingly positive one. In case you are interested, I first listened to it three years ago, when we thrashed Milan 3-0
This time around I was unlucky in the extreme. The commentators weren’t English, they were Americans and both were utterly inept. They mentioned how Monk never ever lost to Arsene Wenger (in his entire three games) at some point midway through the first half and it was the clearest possible indication to me I should turn off the sound. Which greatly contributed to me enjoying the rest of the game.
The first half
It was a nervous affair for the Arsenal fans. The Gunners looked off the pace and it could have cost us on several occasions. Swansea’s best opportunity to score presented itself when Shelvey put Gomis clean through, but Cech’s calmness, Bellerin’s recovery speed and, most importantly, Gomis’ total lack of confidence in front of goal on the back of a goal drought, ensured we kept it at 0-0. The Swans had other chances, Shelvey’s and Gomis’ headers spring to mind, while Montero could have found himself one-on-one, had Gomis (who was offside) not touched the ball.
At that point I was asking myself whether Bellerin could handle Montero even with all the help from Joel Campbell. The conclusion I came to I didn’t like. I thought our best shot at a clean sheet was removing Mertesacker for Gabriel. The German was caught out twice with a through ball, however my main source of concern regarding BFG was that he couldn’t cover for Bellerin as he simply doesn’t possess the required speed to sweep up and cover Montero.
Can we say Arsene’s decision to stick with the German was justified, seeing as we didn’t conceded in the end? I’d say partly. Mert’s numbers are pretty unimpressive, especially compared to those of Koscielny and Monreal; however, you can’t measure Per’s overall impact on our backline. You can’t measure his ability to organise the defenders or his leadership qualities. We would probably have seen a more accomplished defensive performance from Gabriel, though I’m not sure it would have led to the same outcome.
We had our chances too, it has to be noted. Monreal dragged a shot wide early on, Giroud sent the ball over when hitting the target was easier and Campbell had a couple of pops at goal. Oh, and speaking of Campbell…
Joel Campbell, the enigma
Before the game Joel was an unknown quantity, more or less. The mere fact it was his first start in the Premier League lends credence to this argument.
When the team is playing poorly it’s easy to think those uninvolved can change things around, and vice versa. When the team is on a high, people tend to agree with the manager’s selection, even if it completely deprives some individuals of playing time. Just think back to Podolski. Before his loan spell at Inter, most wanted Arsene to use the German more often. He was seen as a kind of savior, an ace up the sleeve, for an underperforming team (at that point). Only when he scored, like, one goal in 15 appearances for Inter did people realise he is not actually as good as they thought he was.
Joel Campbell is no stranger to both sides of this argument. Just like Podolski last year he was portrayed as a stranded hero (Get out while you can, Joel). Just like Podolski his unimpressive stint elsewhere convinced people he was not the man we need. Besides, our team was (and still is, long may it continue) on a run of form, so the manager’s decision to keep Joel out of the team was justified in the eyes of many. Before the game against Swansea everyone has come to the unanimous agreement it was Joel’s last chance, which was a radical change from last year’s narrative.
And he did take his chance. I was very relieved to see that because Joel really is the only senior winger left standing.
Here’s what Campbell accomplished:
- 4 shots, all dangerous, 2 on target, one goal
- 6 ball recoveries
- ¾ tackles
- 2 interceptions
- 2 blocked crosses
He wasn’t involved much in our passing game (completing a mere 13 passes out of 20 attempted), he only attempted (and successfully completed) one dribble and only crossed the ball himself twice, but nonetheless, he managed to make decisive contributions at both ends of the pitch. Joel scored a goal, he was a constant threat and he also helped our Bellerin against Taylor and Montero a great deal. That’s all I can ask of him, really.
The second half
We needed to improve on our first half and we did just that. Arsenal started in the best manner possible: by scoring an early goal. We won a corner, Ozil curled in a cross and Giroud cleverly got rid of Williams and Fernandez to power home a header. It was goal number 2000 under Arsene Wenger, 6th goal for Giroud in the league and 15th headed goal for the Frenchman since he joined three years ago. It was also his 150th appearance for Arsenal. Phew.
Swansea responded in a lively fashion, forcing Cech into a great save from Sigurdsson and looking dangerous from the resulting corner. Again Cech came to the rescue, punching the ball clear from Shelvey’s onrushing bald head. A couple of minutes later Cech was out of the picture after Sigurdsson found Ayew, but, luckily, the linesman blew offside, denying Bellerin a massive off-the-line clearance in doing so.
After that it was basically all us. I won’t even bother listing all our moments, two of which ended in goals for Koscielny (his second in as many games) and Campbell respectively. Swansea’s only real moment of danger happened at 2-0 when Williams saw his effort brilliantly saved by Cech. Our keeper also parried magnificently after Gomis went clean through, though it didn’t count as the linesman raised his flag by then.
It was a statement of intent from the Gunners, if ever there was one. With no real attacking options on the bench (congrats to Iwobi, by the way, the lad made his PL debut), we dug in and found the resources to put Swansea to the sword after a difficult first half.
We can say not every one of our players looked overly convincing, but in the end we did enough as a team to win it. Which is the only thing that matters, really.
The win ensured we stay level on points with City, who nicked it against Norwich in the dying minutes, but it allowed Arsenal to put some distance between us and United (who drew vs Palace) and West Ham (who lost to Watford). Amusingly, Leicester are only three points behind after their comeback at the Hawthorns. However, we got the most difficult period out of the way.
Well done to the Arsenal.
P.S. By the way, it was Cech’s 168th clean sheet. He needs just two more to set a new record in the Premier League. He is in with a chance to equal it against Spurs next weekend.
And a word on Ozil. The German capped his sublime performance with two assists and now has 9 in 10 games (he missed the Newcastle game). He now also has 23 league assists since he joined, the highest total in this period among PL players.