Match Preview: Arsenal v Swansea; A Little Dose of Leadership Required
ESPN this week called Arsenal the “most frustrating team in the world” to support. Don’t they know it. Coming out of last week’s tie against Burnley we finally saw impetus and energy in attack and another clean sheet from a defense that has looked nothing like it did last season.
With the arrival of Anderlecht to the Emirates spirits were high that Arsenal would move on form the group stages earlier than they had in previous years. And for the first 45 they sublimely looked like, then something funny happened on the way to the end of the match – we forgot we had another 45 to play.
ESPN nailed it – it is sometimes maddening and frustrating to watch and support this time that a time tantalizes us with brilliance only to turn around and baffle us with bullshit. It’s hard at this point to finger exactly what is going on with Arsenal. Sure it’s easy to point the finger at Arsene. He’s the manager he is the very public persona of this team. But there is more to it than that. There is more to it than just not bringing in a back up centre back or sticking with a philosophy of play that doesn’t prepare for an opponent.
This team has far too many talented players in it to be the footballing equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde. Perplexing is the inability to seem crisp in passing and possession – a hallmark of Arsenal teams with less talent than this team. Yes, there are moments we have to be patient as Arsenal try and unlock an opponent hell bent on clogging the final third with all 11 on the pitch. But for the most part many of the matches have been boring dull affairs that you just scratch your head and wonder “this isn’t the Arsenal I know.”
What’s the whole point of this dissection of the maddening nature of supporting this team? Well, as poor as this league is doing right now, if Arsenal could manage a collective “pulling of their heads out of their arses” they might at least simulate something akin to a title run (no, I don’t think anyone is catching Chelsea.)
That collective extraction has to begin on the road at Swansea, a team that has been impressive this season, especially at home. In 5 home matches the Swans have 10 points from 15 and don’t allow teams much of an opportunity to score. Additionally, former Arsenal keeper, Lukasz Fabianski has kept 5 clean sheets this season and has settled in nicely.
Still Arsenal should be buoyed by the fact that in 5 visits (in all competitions) they have managed to score 2 goals resulting in 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss. As good as Swansea have been there is no reason to believe that Arsenal can’t and shouldn’t turn them over. Except, there seems to be a lack of leadership from all sides in this club to get them to believe that.
Outside of the lack of depth in defense, I just get at times that the leadership on the pitch that seemed so evident last season is gone. That leadership led to self-belief. That self-belief led to a run to the top of the table, a recovery, Champion’s League qualification and the FA Cup title.
Wenger needs to leadership and shake up the team after the midweek capitulation to Anderlecht. First, he either has to decide to sit Mertesacker or Monreal and move Chambers to partner the CB not sat down. That would mean bringing in Bellerin, who has shown composure and ability in his appearances. Then he needs to be ruthless and pull off anyone not performing in the match. No one should be spared regardless of what they mean to the team.
Then the players need to show leadership and accountability on the pitch and realize that even something like a 3-0 lead is precarious and they have to finish it out with the same intent as it was 0-0 and if they don’t then others have to step up and hold people to the fire for failing to do their jobs. I just don’t get the sense that is being done in the collective social experiment that is Arsenal.
As we mentioned earlier, the league is likely all but Chelsea’s at this point. As repulsive as that is to say, the league is so poor on all accounts that their lead already seems unassailable. Still, Arsenal can and should be able to turn their season around to something respectable. Something resembling a challenge on one front or another would be a great crowd pleaser at this point. Right now though, it is frustrating especially when you can see the potential of this squad.
Something has to click and it has to click starting today.
How the match should play out.
This should be an “open” match that benefits our style of play. Under Monk, Swansea like to build up play from the back and bring it through the midfield, getting the ball out wide to utilize the speed of the wing players. Wilifried Bony will test Arsenal’s back four and its one of the reasons why I’d put Chambers in to partner Mertesacker.
Bony has pace and as Michael Cox has pointed out on the Arsenal dot com site, is unpredictable in his movement – either running at defenses and exploiting the channels or being a beast in the box. Someone like Chambers could help negate that while Mertesacker plays his normal positional game.
Some of these matches have been back and forth affairs and this one won’t be different. Arsenal need to be at their possession best and deny Swansea the midfield.
I am hopeful that the fortunes of the midweek as well as the likelihood of Walcott getting his first start, gives us a mental focus to get our 3rd win in row. It won’t be a comfortable one but it should be one nonetheless.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez. Next to Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, has there been anyone better than Arsenal’s newest signing? He simply doesn’t quit and singlehandedly wills Arsenal on.
Swansea. Lukasz Fabianski. He doesn’t have anything to prove against his old team but he has been stellar for the home side this season and with 5 clean sheets he will be hard to break down.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Arteta (hamstring), Debuchy (ankle), Diaby (calf), Giroud (foot), Gnabry (knee), Koscielny (Achilles), Ospina (thigh), Özil (knee)
Swansea: Amat (knee), Britton (knee), Donnelly (ankle), Richards (knee), Tiendalli (groin), Shelvey (suspended – 1)
Head to Head:
Referee: Phil Dowd (7M, 33Y, 2R)
Assistant Referees: Cann, Ledger
Fourth Official: East
UK: Sky Sports 1 16.00 BST
US: NBC Sports Network 11:00 AM EST
Swansea 1 – 2 Arsenal
Match Facts (courtesy FourFourTwo)
- This is Swansea City’s best start to a Barclays Premier League season (15 points after 10 matches).
- Danny Welbeck has scored three goals in three Premier League appearances against Swansea City.
- Arsenal have won just four Premier League matches this season and those have come against teams currently in the bottom six of the table.
- Arsenal have scored exactly two goals in each of their last five away trips to Swansea in all competitions. That has been enough for three wins, one draw and one defeat.
- There have been nine goals scored in the last 10 minutes of the last six meetings between Arsenal and Swansea in all competitions.
- Swansea have dropped the joint-most points from winning positions this season (8), while Arsenal have recovered the most from losing positions (7).
- The Gunners have conceded five headed goals, accounting for a league-high 45% of all goals shipped and only Burnley (8) have conceded more overall.
- Arsenal have conceded a league high 64% of goals in the first half of Premier League games this season.
- Alexis Sanchez has scored five goals in his last three Premier League games.
- Wilfried Bony has scored four goals in his last four Premier League matches.