Arsenal v. Swansea: Match Preview

Good morning chums.

FIFA’s football slavery* week is over and club football returns tomorrow with Arsenal versus Swansea in a traditional 7am kickoff. Didn’t we just have an international break? Didn’t most of these players just play in a hotly contested Euro or Copa America Centenario? Oui and si, respectively. And what about Arsenal? Weren’t we gaining momentum just before the break with wins over Chelsea, Basel, and Burnley? Of course, yes. So, this international break was most unwelcome.

But as Wenger himself said “maybe the quality of a Premier League team is to be capable of refocusing quickly coming back from international games. That’s what is at stake for us – to show that, despite the interruption, we can restart at the same level we had before.”

Arsenal have their work cut out for them. Alexis Sanchez has been in great form and he has already played 16 matches for club and country this season. His last being 90 minutes of a hard fought World Cup qualifying win (2-1) over Peru on Tuesday night in Santiago. Alexis seems to be made of some kind of indestructible polymer and the extra day of rest should do him wonders. With five goals and five assists already this season for Arsenal, I expect him to start up front.

Alexis spearheads a speedy and mobile front line which features the tricky Alex Iwobi on his left and the muscular Theo Walcott on his right.  Iwobi scored his first international goal for Nigeria Wenger on Wednesday which follows up on his impressive form this season for Arsenal, where he leads the Gunners with three League assists. Theo Walcott on the other side has been showing flashes of being the complete player Arsenal have wanted him to be for the last decade: he leads Arsenal in shots, coming in from the right and his partnership with Alexis up front has produced three goals and two assists in the League.

Arsenal’s midfield received a huge boost or a huge headache, depending on how you look at it. Özil only played half a match for Germany so he will start. Cazorla is also undroppable and will start. But the headache comes from news that Wenger has Coquelin available, which Arsene called “quite good news”. Will Wenger stick with Coquelin in midfield or has Xhaka done enough to impress and earn a start while Coquelin has been out? I suspect Coquelin gets the nod: Wenger will expect Swansea’s new boss (American Bob Bradley) to play defense first football. In which case, arsenal will push high up the pitch and Wenger will look to use Coquelin’s energy to press between the lines and try to win the ball back in Swansea’s half. If Arsenal lose possession, Coquelin’s excellent recovery speed will be vital.

Arsenal’s back line is completely settled with Mustafi and Koscielny forming the football equivalent of the one-two punch. Mustafi is the jab, poking away at defenders, attacking passes, winning tackles and stealing the ball. Koscielny is the haymaker, cleaning up the messes and knocking out the opposition.

Swansea have a new manager, the American Bob Bradley. Wenger was complimentary of Bradley because he is a classy man. I am not. Bradley is a decent manager but the question is whether Bradley is any better than the bog average English manager? From what I’ve seen, no. But that’s what he has to prove with this appointment in Swansea. Like when Wenger came over and revolutionized Arsenal, Bradley has to be yards ahead of the English managers in order to win over the fans. As Wenger said, best of luck to him doing that — only after tomorrow’s match!

Swansea have Leroy Fer as their main threat. He is a midfielder but he wins a lot of aerial duels and he will be a threat on set plays against Arsenal’s slightly smaller center backs. Swansea have big structural problems with their defense this year. They lost Ashley Williams to Everton and as a result the defense is the worst in the league, in terms of shot quality conceded. Bob Bradley needs to get that settled and organized and that will no doubt be the way they play tomorrow. How well remains the central question.

Swansea knocked Arsenal out of the title race last year in what was probably the most painful match of the season as the year’s expectations went up in flames. One-nil up thanks to a Campbell strike, Arsenal collapsed to a sloppy 2-1 defeat. And here is Arsenal again, on the verge of perhaps another title run and with a five match winning streak under their belt. As Wenger put it, Arsenal need to show that they are contenders and put this one to bed.


*Each of the leagues has agreed to enforce FIFA’s rule that players must appear for international duty when called up or they have to sit out of their league games for a period equal to the number of games that they would have played for FIFA plus five days. Meanwhile FIFA makes tons of money off this, which goes toward corruption and lining the pockets of FIFA’s administrators and not toward “grass roots” football. But you already knew all of that. (Article 5)

28 Comments on Arsenal v. Swansea: Match Preview

  1. Am Super relieved that our Coq is back. Swansea at home is always a tough prospect over the years. Let’s see how this team measures. The team just have to watch out for complacency, because Swansea has a way of throwing spanner into our wheels.. Arsenal should win though.

  2. I wonder what will eventually prove to be a bridge too far for FIFA. Seems like nothing can stop them. Not even cutting off the serpent’s head. But their past record of arrogance suggests they will continue to push until they are finalky, forcefully stopped.

  3. I like our front three. I can’t believe Walcott is proving me so terribly wrong in my summer predictions. I mean, it’s early days, but I like the way he’s been growing into form.

    Speaking of growing form…Walcott’s muscles.

    I’m curious about Bradley. I hope he succeeds in England, if only to put a dent in the myth that Americans are know-nothings when it comes to socc…football. But that Swansea managerial position is an unenviable one.

    I hope I’m wrong about this, but I have a feeling Bradley will ask his players to bully Arsenal tomorrow, or, in the immortal words of Phil Brown, “get up their noses.”

    • I like nothing more than to be proven wrong when it comes to Arsenal.
      I put some money on Arsenal coming in third in the league tables come May and I would like very much to lose that bet if they could win it instead. As for Walcott, he’s been saying all the right things about motivation and a change of approach to his football this season ,citing the conversation with Wenger as the deciding factor. I can’t help to think that Wenger actively trying to sign Vardy, Griezman( if you believe rumors), and ultimately Perez had more to do with Walcott’s transformation than any talk he might’ve had with Wenger.

      In any case his change in attitude, especially towards defending, represents for me a real big step in Walcott’s personal growth and I’m happy for him.
      His inclusion into the World Cup Squad of 2006 by Erickson did more demage to him as a player than good in my opinion.

  4. I would like for the American coach to do really well…except for both the games against us. I would love for Swansea to beat all of our rivals. It would be awesome for Swansea to become our inside agent for the rest of the season

  5. I hope we get the chance to sub early enough, ease some of the guys back into it. That sounds very presumptuous – I’m guessing a bit of a slog to the three points with Alexis playing over 80 minutes.

  6. Well that was harder than it should it have been but we got there in the end. Question for everybody, why was Xhaka’s tackle a straight red card? Denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity, violent conduct, and serious foul play are the criteria which are supposed to be used. The first two criteria are unmet and I suppose a tackle from behind can be deemed as serious foul play if excessive force is used or the opposition player’s safety is endangered so I guess that was the justification for the red. Of course, we see tackles like Xhaka’s made in every single game without a red card so the arbitrary and capricious nature of this particular call is highly annoying. Between this call and the two phantom offsides call against us which denied two one v one opportunities for us I would swear Moss was doing his best to ensure Swansea made a game of it. It didn’t help that we were trying our hardest to give away the points too.

  7. Xhaka made a very cynical foul. Wenger said “to me it was dark yellow but the referee saw bright red”.

    That will no doubt go down as one of the quotable Wengerimes.

    Tough call but we definitely showed something today that has-been missing for the last few editons of this club.

    We saw it through and we closed out a match against a bogey opponent and on a day when City and S&%as stumbled.

    We could have done better but we did good. And good can be huge as time will no doubt tell.

  8. good to get the result. in fairness, even after going down to 10 men, arsenal always looked dangerous.

    alexis is playing a false nine and i’m not sure i like it. i’m honest enough to say that’s my opinion and recognize that alexis’ new position has proved effective despite my opinion. we’ll see how the season progresses.

    i think it’s plain to see why wenger was slow integrating xhaka to the match-day team. he’s a talented kid but not quite at the level of many other midfielders at arsenal. the first goal was him caught in two minds on whether to dribble or feint and pass. while his foul on barrow was indeed cynical, i don’t think he deserved to be sent off; very harsh decision. in fact, if arsenal wanted to, they could make a legitimate argument that xhaka was unfairly sent-off. while his demeanor could convince otherwise, we have to remember that this kid is still so young.

    petr cech was very solid today. i absolutely loved özil’s finish. theo unlucky not to get a hat trick. wenger was a tad late on bringing on gibbs but the substitutions were very good. arsenal absolutely blew swansea away. arsenal fans should be proud. i really hope that when cazorla retires, he can look back on his career and say that his highlight was winning the premier league with arsenal this season. lastly, i love watching this team when ramsey doesn’t play.

  9. Sanchez sucks: discuss.

    Look, I love the guy, I’m happy he’s plying his trade at the Arsenal. But he needs to step up and go finish and stuff like that. And do stuff like being a striker and all that.

    And he just ain’t doing it mate. So what up with him?

    • I thought Alexis has vindicated himself in the new role so far. At first it looked like he was vacating the central areas too often, but it seems like his positioning is by design because it confuses defenses and allows ozil and walcott to run into the spaces he’s left, and as a result both Ozil and Theo have scored more. I also feel like he’s been more effective creatively. when he was out on the left he often tried to do too much or didn’t make the easy pass, which hindered the flow of our passing game, but he was dangerous enough individually that we tolerated those disruptions. In a more central role he’s actually had some stunning assists and flicked passes that make us dynamic on the break.

      Not only that, but his energy along with walcott’s newfound determination makes us pretty effective at pressing the back line, forcing defenders and goalkeepers into hurried passes.

      I still wish we got a proper 9 this summer though, someone who has the qualities of Alexis but who adds an aerial threat. There are lots of instances where we get the ball down the wings into dangerous positions but don’t have anyone to aim at in the box. It looks like we are trying to break teams down with clever passing and intricate play but when we have nobody in the box it lets the defense collapse onto us and choke off the space; a target in the box would keep them honest.

      • I’ve not been able to see all minutes of all games this season. From what I have seen though, our control and composition on the ball in the final third has been so, so pleasing to watch. When we get down the flank and there’s nobody to cross to, we keep possession and recycle – and often attack at the same spot a few seconds later with another player, this time with someone making the run into the box. The movement has been so good and so quick, the angles of attack so unpredictable. The false 9 thing is working for me. That said if we can get Giroud integrated and playing well in this attack (and Welbeck in a few months) we have a potentially devastating front line.

    • I don’t understand 1Nil’s comment. We’re tied with Man City for first in the league on points and goals scored. Alexis has has scored 4 of those goals and assisted 3. Most importantly he’s part of an extremely good front four who are thriving together. What’s not to like?

  10. We weren’t really at our sharpest, at both ends of the pitch. We let Swansea back into the game when we should’ve been cruising. Missed chances or passes for chances. Had a nonsense red card against us, and numerous offside calls that would’ve been one on one. It could have been anything like 7 or 8 goals for us. Alternately, we could have drawn or lost that game with the amount of chances Swansea missed after Xhaka was sent off.

    All in all, this was quite a spectacle of a game, though not really the highest quality. We did have a fair few moments of high quality though. Bellerin’s shot saved by Fabianski, Iwobi’s run which should have led to a Walcott goal, Ox’s running late in the game, and of course, the deserved winner, Ozil’s superb volley. Seeing as both City and Spurs dropped points, and we won. It has to go down as a good day.

    Swansea were unlucky to lose against Liverpool and especially City, who got a penalty for nothing. I suppose they can feel hard done by, but I think they’ll start getting points on the board soon. They are a decent side and have been our bogey team recently. (Along with Southampton) Good to get the three points. Now on to the CL. Hope we rotate some, with Gibbs, Lucas, and Ox getting some game time.

    • My impressions that follow are based on highlights, so go easy on me, but:

      1. Pleased that Walcott is scoring un-Walcott like goals. For the first, he applied the same desire he’s shown when tracking back down the right flank to not give up on a clearance that Amat looked favorite to win. He used his quickness to get shoulder to shoulder with the defender who thought he had a lot more time than he did, and knocked the bigger player off the ball fairly. Not sure I’ve ever seen Walcott do that. For the second, he won they physical tussle with Cork, who was still eating grass when the ball came to Theo unmarked in the center of the six. Ironically, he then went on to miss two opportunities for very Walcott-esque goals that were about his speed on the breakaway. He’s showing he can be more of a center forward from a nominal wide right position than anyone ever thought.

      2. We couldn’t deal with Modou Barrow and crosses: Barrow was the outlet for Swansea all game long and he stuck to Monreal’s flank all game long. He clearly had the advantage in speed and quickness, but was also very obviously left footed and should not have been allowed to play passes on that foot into the center of the box. Somehow just such a pass was rolled in between Monreal (who was correctly showing him to the right) and Cazorla ( who got sucked to the ball after marking space inside). After that, neither Koscielny nor Mustafi were aware enough of Borja’s movement and he has a simple chance from 8 yard and central. Goal. That one moment aside, crosses were a theme of the game from Swansea, but so was their commitment of multiple bodies into the box. Kostafi were frequently outnumbered in there with midfielders neither closing down the cross nor tracking runners into the box. We were somewhat fortunate not to concede from any of their headed chances (though I’m not sure I agree with Opta that they were all “big chances”) and must improve on this aspect of our defending.

      3. Xhaka: As Tim pointed out on by the numbers, Xhaka did not have a poor performance overall and contributed well to offense and defense. His highlight was an extremely eye catching pass over the top of the entire Swansea team for Alexis which set up a good chance for us. However he had two exceptionally poor moments in this match. For the Sigurdsson goal, nobody has to tell him what a blunder that was. He will learn from it. For the red card, the problem was not the professional foul (for which he was wrongly sent off) but the poor angle he took to close down the lightning quick Barrow. He has to stay goal side in that situation and realize it’s more important to delay the counter attack and allow his team to recover their shape than to try to win the ball.

      • For me, the most disappointing aspect of Swansea’s 2nd goal was the lack of a tactical response to Barrow’s obvious advantage against Montreal. It was very obvious that if they were going to come back into the game, it would be through Barrow so once we got the two goal cushion we should have shut the game down. or least looked to shore up that flank. A couple of season’s ago, we faced the exact situation against them except on our right flank with Jefferson Montego absolutely owning Calum Chambers. Similarly, we never really doubled up that flank either. At least this time, it didn’t cost us the game.

        • I’ve seen this happen time and again and it’s my belief that Arsene views such things as collateral damage of playing on the front foot. He trusts his defenders to win 1v1 duels more often than not. However he did bring on Gibbs to shore up the left side, though only after the red card.

          • I’m sure that having one fullback go forward is the plan. It always has been the plan. Tim Stillman mentioned it in his piece on Wenger and I remember the Invincibles and Ashley Cole and Bisan Lauren exchanging forward support duties. But what happens with Arsenal is that at times BOTH fullbacks go forward or one will leak out of position and stray forward leaving both center backs exposed and making Arsenal look like some kind of crazy 2-1-4-3. And that formation is exactly what we see like every time there is a crazy counter attack against Arsenal. It was chronic during the Fabregas era and we lost the League title twice because we played with both fullbacks forward at all times. Wenger seemed to have reigned that back in in the last few years but it comes back, and usually when it does we get hammered for it.

  11. I honestly don’t feel like the sending off was such a terrible decision. Maybe if it had been obstruction or shirt pulling Xhaka would have gotten away with a yellow but I think the fact that he slid in and took out the player with no chance of getting the ball made it look worse. I think it’s certainly at least a yellow but a red isn’t incomprehensible to me. If that had been John Terry on Theo I would have wanted a red too.

    It’s harsh for sure but I don’t think it’s an outrageous decision.

    On the game as a whole I don’t think i’ve watched such a one sided Arsenal game where we scored 3 goals and still could have lost.

    But the win is all that matters.

    • Can you think of any other time such a trip on the halfway line was awarded a red card?

      I can only think of one, and that was John Terry. That wasn’t a trip, but a full on rugby tackle where he just hung on the back of the player to bring him down. The ref saw that as serious foul play, but the red card was later overturned by the FA.

      We’d like to see those sort of tackles eradicated from the game, but I don’t see how under the rules this tackle fits a straight red card (and 3 match ban) when you see so much worse go on every game. Neil Taylor’s slide on Ozil for instance, was much more reckless and dangerous. We had Amat hit Walcott’s eye, and another dude turn his shoulder into Monreal.

      Moss is just a bad ref. He probably reacted to Barrow being hurt and thought it must have been a studs up tackle rather than a trip. I can understand why Wenger wouldn’t want to appeal it though. We’ve largely been having a decent showing from the refs this season. No reason to show them up and piss them off when we’ve got cover for Xhaka in Coquelin and Elneny (and maybe a returning Ramsey) and one of those games he’ll miss is the League Cup.

  12. Happy for the 3 points. Highlight for me was seeing Theo scoring poacher’s goals. Never woulda thunk it!

  13. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. When you compare it to other tackles that aren’t punished it’s not as bad as a lot of them. I do think, in isolation, without comparing it to other incidents that should also be punished but aren’t, it’s the kind of cynical tackle that flirts with being a red card offense.

    I especially agree with you that we’ve been getting a decent showing from the referees this year so considering we won the game and have a good replacement in Coquelin, it might be wise to not kick up too much of a fuss about it, even if it was very harsh.

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