When I started writing about Arsenal five years ago, I thought I had something distinctive to say about the club. Having read and been inspired by several blogs for years, I believed I had identified a way to contribute something different to the discussion.
In particular, the business and management of the club, from its corporate strategy to its financial performance to its brand strategy to its management of its human capital, were aspects that I could shed some light on.
I’ve thought a lot and helped others think about such matters over the course of my career. Examining and synthesizing them for such an admirable enterprise as Arsenal Football Club seemed like a worthwhile undertaking.
Today, I’m not going to say that assessment was wrong – this is supposed to be a match preview, not a navel-gazey blog post. But too many of us are paying attention to the business and management of the club at the expense of the actual sporting endeavor.
This week provides an excellent example. Instead of relishing the emergence of Eddie Nketiah, the 18-year-old savior of Arsenal’s Carabao Cup run, the story turned to the conduct of the Annual General Meeting of Arsenal Shareholders. Which, capitalism being what it is, meant absolutely nothing.
What will mean something is the Gunners’ next Premier League match, against Swansea City at Emirates Stadium.
May I suggest, though, that this meaning has little to do with Arsenal’s prospects for the near term, as the team tries to establish consistent performance before some challenging November fixtures? Or with its ultimate position in the 2017-18 Premier League table? Or with the futures of star men Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil? Or with the collective desire of 14 professional athletes who would never have reached the pinnacle of their profession without desire?
Those will doubtless be storylines peddled by paid and amateur analysts during and after the match. And they will largely miss the point of sport.
To me, an observer who’s ruminated on the bigger picture for some time, the point now is the enjoyment of sublime athleticism, the appreciation of genius, the surprise at the unexpected. The minute developments or actions that I have never seen before and will likely never see again.
If you view the story through that composite lens, you’ll avoid the jaded, hackneyed, “same old Arsenal” perspective that seems to drive some people near insanity.
You also might appreciate the speed and guile of the Gunners’ attackers against a Swansea defense set up to stymie them, the subtle orchestration of midfielders Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, the dynamism of wingbacks Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin, and the timely aggressiveness and attention to transition of the team’s defenders and goalkeeper.
Trends to Watch
See above, in particular the timing of Ramsey’s runs to join the attack. Last weekend against Everton, the Welshman synchronized his moves almost perfectly with those of Özil, Alexis, and Alexandre Lacazette. Swansea may be more diligent opponents, but the interactions of Arsenal’s four attackers can be unstoppable.
How the Match Plays Out
This was not a straightforward affair last season, owing primarily to the unjustified dismissal of Xhaka. I expect him to avoid such a fate on Saturday and to dictate the play from the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Farther forward, the Swans may be more resolute than Everton was. Still, I don’t see them resisting the athleticism, skill, and synchronicity of Arsenal’s attack.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. After his display at Everton, the German playmaker looks primed to dominate matches with his skill and vision. As Swansea set up to thwart him, he’ll need to move and think just as quickly.
Bournemouth. Lucasz Fabianski. The former Arsenal man between Swansea’s sticks has a worldy in him; he also has a clanger. He’ll be busy.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Welbeck (groin), Mustafi (thigh), Ospina (groin)
Swansea: Bartley (knee), Bony (thigh), Sanches (thigh), Olsson (hamstring)
AVERAGE GOALS FOR:
AVERAGE GOALS AGAINST:
Referee: Lee Mason (5M, 13Y, 1R)
Assistant referees: H Lennard, D Eaton
Fourth official: L Probert
UK: Highlights only
US: NBC Sports Gold, 10:00 AM EDT
Arsenal 3 – 0 Swansea
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
What is at stake for us is that we have used our flops [mistakes] already at the start of the season, and we’ve had a strong run. It is important that we continue that. We responded well at Everton and it’s important that we focus on repeating that quality that we showed at Everton to prepare ourselves for a tough game. Every game is massively difficult.
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Swansea are the only club to have won more top-flight matches away to Arsenal than they have lost, with four victories and three defeats in eight games.
- However, they did lose last season’s corresponding fixture 3-2, which was then-manager Bob Bradley’s first game in charge.
- Paul Clement’s reign as Swansea boss also began with a game against Arsenal: a 4-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium in January.
- Arsenal have won three of the past four meetings, scoring 12 goals.
- The Gunners have won nine successive league games at the Emirates Stadium.
- They have scored 22 goals during that run and kept seven clean sheets.
- Arsenal haven’t lost a Premier League home match since they were beaten 2-1 by Watford in January.
- They have scored 23 headed goals in the Premier League since the start of 2016-17, four more than any other side.
- Arsene Wenger will be taking charge of his 800th Premier League match, 10 behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s record.
- Swansea have taken nine points from six away matches, with their only defeat coming against West Ham in their most recent away fixture.
- They have conceded only once in their last five away league games dating back to May.
- Swansea have scored just six league goals this season; only Crystal Palace, with two, have fewer.
- Tammy Abraham has scored four of Swansea’s six league goals.
- The Swans have scored 11 own goals since the start of the 2015-16 season, more than twice as many as any other side. Federico Fernandez has scored three of them.