Swansea v. Arsenal Preview

Have I ever said how much I like the Liberty stadium? I know, I have many times. It’s a modern stadium with large concourses and plenty of concessions stands but they designed it in such a way that it gives the feeling that you’re close to the field.

The only time I went to Liberty Stadium was the day that Nacho Monreal scored his first goal for Arsenal (17 March 2013). It was a crazy first goal, broken play, completely disorganized, which only goes to show that no matter how well you plan things, the randomness of football will sometimes be the difference.

Swansea will be well aware of the Chaos Theory of football as they are the team who lead the League in defensive errors with 11, they are also 2nd in the League in defensive errors leading to a goal while at home with 3. Swansea have also conceded the most big chances in home games with 22 and the second most very close range shots with 7.The result is that despite a not-so-bad record of shots for and against, Swansea have conceded the most goals in the League.

Category Swansea Arsenal Arsenal +/-
Shots 12.8 13.9 1.1
Shots OT 4.5 4.9 0.4
Goals scored 1.4 2.3 0.9
Shots allowed 14.3 10.4 -3.9
Goals allowed 2.3 1.2 -1.1

Swansea’s attack is also awful but they try to make up for all of this chaos with a semblance of order. Owing to the fact that they have Fernando Llorente, Swansea are 3rd in the League in key passes from crosses – getting the ball wide and crossing will be one of their main forms of attack. Routledge is a major outlet here for them with 0.7 key passes from crosses per game but Kyle Naughton adds almost the same threat from the right back position with 0.5 per game.

Where Swansea really shine, however, is on set plays. Here Gylfi Sigurdsson plays a major role. Swansea have one of the worst records for creating from open play, making just 5 goals this season at home. Instead, their goal threat at home comes from set plays where they have 7 goals already, 2nd best in the League. You’d think Llorente is the big threat and he is, but just two goals so far this season at home from set plays.

Arsenal will be tested from set plays, though the numbers of actual shots and goals allowed off these set plays by Arsenal are extremely low: just 13 shots conceded and one goal! Again, that’s in away games only but it’s still a much better record than we all probably expected.

Arsenal do struggle in possession in away games. They are #1 in turnovers due to poor touch with 14.2 per game. Of course Arsenal’s forwards are always going to turn the ball over more than any other player but what surprises is that Francis Coquelin made 1.8 unsuccessful touches per game along with getting dispossessed 1.3 times per game. His replacement, Ramsey makes fewer poor touches (1) but is dispossessed 2 times per game. The net result is a wash with both players averaging 3.1 combined turnovers per game. Granit Xhaka, to compare, only takes 0.9 poor touches per away day and is dispossessed 0.2 times per game.

Other notable error prone players are Gabriel who averages almost a full turnover per game from poor touch, which is utterly unacceptable from a center back. Another is Bellerin who is dispossessed 2 times per90 on average which means that while his touch is fine, he tends to hold on to the ball too much on away days. To put Bellerin’s dispossessed numbers in context, Giroud averages 2.1 per90 and Alexis 2.2 per90 and Aaron Ramsey, as usual, is the most profligate with the turnovers coughing up the ball 3.3 times p90.

Bellerin won’t be available for the match which means that Wenger will either start Jenkinson, Mustafi, or Gabriel on the right. In addition, Coquelin won’t be available for this match and that means Ramsey starting along side Xhaka because Elneny is away on ACON duty for Egypt.

In the good column, Arsenal lead the League in goals from open play with 33, 19 of which have come on away days (also leads the League). Most of this is down to Alexis Sanchez who leads the League in Key Passes from open play with 44. He also leads the League in key passes from open play in away games with 27.

In terms of attack prowess, Arsenal have conceded the second fewest big chances in away games with 9 and created the most big chances in away games with 19 (tied with Liverpool). Clearly, Arsenal are the team to beat in this game.

Swansea’s new boss, Englishman Paul Clement, will have his hands full tactically. Özil has recovered from his Christmas flu and should start this match. Wenger typically likes to use Özil as a line-breaker and space filler. When Wenger had Arteta, he would use the Spaniard’s excellent control in midfield to draw the opposition midfielders deep toward the Arsenal back line. Then Özil would pop up into space vacated by the opposition.

With Arsenal no longer a purely ball-retention side, Wenger now uses Alexis to play a similar decoy role. Alexis drops deep, collects, and creates space for others to move into. That could be either Özil or, when he’s playing, Ramsey. Giroud will almost certainly start at the point of the lance, so expect to see Alexis dropping, collecting, and trying to break lines with either a pass into space he just vacated or with a dribble into a dangerous area. That player will then be set up to cross to Giroud or take their own shot.

Swansea boss Clement is an unknown factor here. He hasn’t had much time to work with his new team and the first order of business must be to shore up the League’s worst defense if they are going to survive relegation. Arsenal’s poor possession stats in away games magnify the fan sense that Arsenal are vulnerable to high pressing teams that are willing to exchange energy for space. Whether Clement has his team prepared to do that or whether they will just sit in the low block is the question.

This isn’t a match they are supposed to win. If I was Swansea’s new manager, I might be tempted to set them up for the high press and roll the dice. For Wenger, his team also need to press high. Swansea’s defenders aren’t good with the ball and starving them of counter attacking service is crucial to keeping their players off the scoresheet.

Projected Arsenal starters:

Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal
Ramsey, Xhaka
Lucas, Özil, Alexis




  1. That’s one heck of an attacking line-up. I think Wenger might go for Iwobi instead of Lucas for a bit more possession in mid-field. Lucas seems to me more of a fox-in-the-box type of player and a good option to bring from the bench if we need to.

  2. Nice analysis! I hope we go back to the high press with Sanchez at CF. I agree with giving Lucas some games; he seems to be the most direct replacement we have for Walcott and could thrive in the same sort of role. Could be a good game to start Ramsey at RW and partner Xhaka with Coquelin, who is just as crucial as Sanchez to our pressing game.

    1. Really?
      Coquelin is not available. Ramsey is not at his best at RW. If you want Lucas to play more, he probably play as a RW and it can’t happen by shoehorning Ramsey at RW just to put Coquelin in midfield. If you want Lucas to play as a CF than, Alexis play as a LW. But if you play Alexis as a LW, then our high pressing game can’t come back because it relied on Alexis as a CF.

      1. If Coq is still out then of course it has to be Rambo-Xhaka. I don’t understand the rest of your comment to be honest, please elaborate.

  3. Can Wenger try Perez as a striker, Walcott and Chamberlin as wingers, Iwobi behind Perez? Just to prove people who think Alex Sanchez is the Alpha and Omega of this team wrong. Wenger, please read my comment and have a thought on it. I love you. I love arsenal

  4. The Chelsea express to the title has hit a speed bump this weekend and time will tell if it is a permanent derailment. In the mean time we need to play Swansea in a manner that proclaims we are in this thing for real. We need our players to press these boys in an aggressive coordinated manner and not just Sanchez by his lonesome. We also need to be clinical in our finishing so that we can fill our boots.

  5. We would not get Bellerin’s forward overlapping runs from Gabriel, so it wouldn’t be expedient playing an inverted WR player like Perez ahead of him . I expect Ox to start there.

    The Swans playing style, which is expansive, is suited to Alexis as our striker. The Swans are obviously lacking energy in their games, and if we can up ours with with added intensity in our pressing, l believe they would crumble. The more reason for Sanchez to lead the line.

    1. I agree, but I think one of the main points Tim was making is that we have no idea how Paul Clement will set this team up. Swansea is known for expansive football but with them in a relegation scrap and in between managers, there’s no telling how they will play.

  6. I have to say that Koscielny’s one weakness (he’s a fine, fine defender) is his shot-blocking style. He half turns his back, in rather cowardly fashion. I’m of the Nemanja Vidic/John Terry school of defending — you throw yourself into these blocks. He nearly let in a a goal — Cech saved — and similarly should not have allowed Sterling to score from where he did at City.

  7. Another poor half of football from Arsenal. Again the opposing team is pressing and playing at a higher intensity and we cannot match them. They are a bad football team with not much speed or creativity, which is why they haven’t scored. We can’t beat their press and we are offering no threat behind them.

    Offensively the team is full of players who want to use the same space in front of the D and they are getting in each others’ way without combining effectively. The buildup is labored and the runs are too similar. Gabriel is by no means an outlet and we should be looking to build more on the left through Monreal rather than watching him and Ramsey exchange passes that get the team nowhere.

    Defensively there is very little security provided by the midfield which remains rather sieve-like. Xhaka seems indecisive without the ball, not sure when to press Ki and when to sit back and this inconsistency leaves others in bad positions too. It’s tough watching. We have a lead but not much to be proud of from that half of football. It’s fine to coast through a match as long as you control either the ball or the space effectively, but we are coasting while doing neither.

    1. Agreed.

      In other news, (former Chelsea flop) Chris Sutton on the BBC thinks that was a penalty and we “got away with one”. Shock. Of. The. Century. Question: is there anyone more unlikable, biased, and moronic in the English football commentating world? No, no there isn’t.

    2. He dived. In fact, Swansea have had the better of the calls because Naughton should have seen yellow for a bad challenge on Monreal. Arsenal don’t have many friends in British punditr, except Thierry. Jamie Carragher’s team of the half-season included Mane (Liverpool of course), but not Sanchez. Go figure.

      Doc you’re one of the more optimistic gooners round here, so your assessment surprises me. I think we had decent half, and didn’t play as badly as you say we did. We are much, much better than they are, and the score is finally reflecting that. 0-3 as we speak.

      Credit to Wenger, btw, for a tactical tweak that saw us absolutely dominating them at the start of the second half.

      1. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade. That was a poor 1st half.

        It’s amazing how we just flipped the switch again, just like we did vs. Preston in the 2nd half and Bournemouth in the last 20 minutes which makes the lethargy of the first 45 in each instance all more difficult to understand. We look like a really good football team when we press cohesively, are aggressive into 50/50’s and attack in numbers on the counter. Definitely had the rub of the green to flatter the scoreline but the pressure we put them under made it a matter of time.

        1. If they got some more luck in the first half or even just had some quicker wingers available, this could’ve gone very differently. We’d probably still have clawed something back but let’s not walk away from this thinking we dominated this game. We dominated half of the game and that’s a concerning trend.

          1. I think when assessing our performance you have to factor in how hopeless the opposition were. I think we were better than them in the first half too (just), but the fact that they had as much of the ball in dangerous positions should give us serious pause. A half decent team would have punished us. And all four of our goals were scored after really sloppy/unlucky defending from them. I’m not displeased about winning 4-0, but let’s not be under any illusions that this sort of performance for the rest of the season will not be enough to catch Chelsea and probably not enough to stay in the top 4 (for the record, I suspect we’ll make the top 4, because we always do, and because our performances will improve at some point). Here’s hoping the United-Liverpool game ends 0-0!

    1. I love the guy and I know he wants to be on there for the full 90 but the sideline pouting is a bit much. We are 4-nil up dude – you need to chill and understand you are desperately needed for the 2nd half of the season.

  8. Alex Owing is soon good he doesn’t actually have to score himself. He just let’s the opposition do it for him!

    That being said, the 2nd was far better than yet another woeful 45 opening minutes. Agree with Dr Gooner – still so fragile defensively.

    Unable to cope with yet another “full court press” we allowed The Swans to open us up time and again. If they had any kind of quality on the final ball they would have been out of sight at halftime.

    As we’ve seen in several games already, the opposition ran out of steam and we were able to impose ourselves.

    Not being churlish though. Love that 4-0 nil. Goal diff will make a difference in the run in.

  9. I would like to thank Swansea for allowing us a score that Arsenal fans will know flatters us.

  10. We can’t keep being a Jekyll-Hyde team. If we choose our moments to be aggressive, that’s fine, but we at least have to maintain a semblance of control for when we decide to be more reserved. I’d prefer to see a strong start and a coast to the finish rather than 45 minutes of somnambulism followed by madcap capers.

    Credit and blame in equal measure then.

    1. Sleepwalking and madcap madness – l like it. Sums us up our split personality:
      1st half Arsenal: shut up!
      2nd half Arsenal: No you shut up.
      1st half Arsenal: No you…

  11. Looks Wenger did make a Jan. signing: Own Goal on a free transfer. Astute buy for this day at least today.
    Chelsea without Costa should still beat Leicester and will still be formidable going forward. If he were to go to China, I would loose all ‘respect’ for an admittedly quality striker. I know I can shove my respect when you’re talking 700K/wk.

  12. Glad to get the win and agree with everyone disappointed by the first half.

    Fair play to the referee for getting the Ki penalty decision correct.

  13. Leicester-Chelsea. How the hell did a defender as hapless as Wes Morgan end up captaining a league-winning side? Boy we really blew it last year. The proof was that we beat them twice, but had or familiar collapses.

  14. Regarding our inability to break a press, I hate the way we play the ball out from the back. Wenger likes to push the midfielders way ahead of the center backs with one, usually Coq, between the midfield and forward lines as a decoy and one, usually Cazorla, just in front of the opposition midfielders. Özil, Sanchez, and the wide forwards play between the lines or run behind the defensive line. Koz and Mustafi will either make a direct pass ahead to the attackers or find Cazorla who is then tasked to advance the ball. The supposed advantage of this approach is if a line breaking pass is made, our forwards already outnumber the defenders and have a brief window of attacking opportunity. The disadvantage of this tactic it places a tremendous amount of responsibility on Cazorla to receive the ball with his back to goal while pressured and find a way out of pressure with a neat dribble or one touch pass. If he turns the ball over, the opposition have a fabulous opportunity to counter because our central defenders are our only players behind Cazorla.

    Further, by placing Coq between the lines, the theoretical advantage is if we lose it, he can win the ball back. The disadvantage is that our most natural defensive midfielder is not actually in a position to protect the center backs if a team manages to break. This system works simply because Cazorla is such a skilled midfielder that h can take on this role with aplomb.

    Our problem is that Santi is injured. I doubt there’s more than a handful of players in the world capable of playing the Cazorla role and we certainly don’t have a replacement who brings his unique skill set to the role. And yet, how does Wenger adjust to Santi’s absence? Nothing. He simply drops a player into the side and says your role is to play with the same skill and verve as Cazorla. Xhaka is a tremendous passer when he’s facing the attack. He doesn’t seem to have the ability to worm his out of trouble when strongly pressed. Ramsey, for all his attacking qualities, is a turnover waiting to happen. Our defenders therefore try to make the direct pass into attack because they don’t have the confidence to give the ball to Xhaka or Ramsey if those players are pressured or they pass it back to Cech. If Xhaka gets the ball, he simply plays it back because he can’t play on the turn. We then play the long ball to Giroud which makes Olivier indispensable despite his presence tending to stifle our best forward, Alexis.

    I wish we would switch to three at the back to break pressure, which is how every other possession based team in the world tries to attack a press. Split the center backs, drop a midfielder between. Two forwards will be outnumbered in the press, giving the back three more time on the ball and giving better spacing and angles to bypass the press with shorter, less risky passes. Plus, if we do lose the ball, we have more players around the ball to prevent a quick counter. It’s a systematic way of playing a press rather than relying on a wonderful players very unique skill set to do the same.

    1. My impression of Mustafi’s passing is that he has a 50-50 chance of his passes reaching their target.
      Agree on Ramsey. We seem to be waiting for him to get back that magical year pre-injury and so far that has not happened. We are also wondering where is that great Euro form that he had and I think that was down to the amount of space teams gave him because of their fear of Bale. I don’t like that he always has to put his head down when he makes a pressing run as if the effort is a struggle to make.

  15. I will not criticize Sanchez’z histrionics because at least his on the pitch demeanor is preferable to that of some of the other players in this squad.
    I have watched nearly every match that Chile has played since we got Sanchez and I will say Chile Sanchez is a more dominating player than Arsenal Sanchez because of the way Arsenal play. That could be because National teams don’t seem to double and triple team him when he goes off on a foray. His interplay with the FB Beausejour is also much more dynamic that with Monreal

  16. In other news of note, Chelsea have recalled CF Patrick Bamford from his loan.

    The cornerstone of sp*rs defense, Vertonghen may have a significant ankle injury.

    We need to take care our business and win our next 2 ‘winnable’ league (Burnley, Watford) games to put on those teams around us.

    I thought that Swansea pitch looked more like a shag rug that a ‘fast’ carpet surface.

  17. Cazorla is the most special of midfielders. Our performances in his absence is ample proof of that. He, more than Sanchez, Ozil or Cech is the main ingredient to whatever success we have enjoyed these past 4-5 seasons.

    And we have lost him for the season and have failed to cope. Sad! Disaster!

    Sorry, I mean he is going to be president why not?

  18. We were significantly better than Swansea, and we won by a score that adequately reflected the gulf in class, imo. Pretty even game for about half a half, and yes, they had success pressing us (who doesn’t) but I see nothing to get bent out of shape about. Now beating Chelsea at the Bridge… that’d be something.

    I prefer to celebrate the newfound directness of Alexander Iwobi. Goal productivity from the left wing is key (although he played right today), and, lucky or not, it is good to see him taking the shot on and driving hard at defenders. He is, for one so young, a superb measurer of a pass. He gets the weight perfectly more often than not, and has that much cliched thing, a football brain.

    A good result, albeit not a great performance. The best Arsenal XI contains Theo and Bellerin.

  19. Im not a huge fan of Coquelin (too limited, imo), but watching our recent games, I can see why the plays. He’s our best ball-winner by far, of any player outside the back 4. Of the front 6 that played today (excluding Cech and the back 4), only Sanchez can tackle with anything approaching top level competency. Ozil, Ramsey, Iwobi, Goroud, Xhaka are all half-hearted stoppers. It’s no wonder that we are not great at the counter-press, because our front players are very, very ordinary tacklers. Ozil we know about. It’s surprising to see what poor and ineffectual tacklers players like Ox and Iwobi are. That shortage of natural tacklers (to which I’d add Gabriel and Bellerin from the back line) inhibits our ability to beat the press or counter it.

    1. I withdraw the charge, Mr Bellerin, because you are getting much better in this department. Speed and speed of recovery serve you well here.

    2. I went for a run today and I was thinking about who would have made a difference in that shite start and I said to myself: Coquelin because what he offers is what no other Arsenal player is capable of: winning the ball back and not taking any shite in that MF area. Limited or not, I would drop Ramsey in a heart beat for Coquelin if he were fit.

  20. Claud, that’s a very pertinent observation. A lot of people urge that we should be gengen pressing not recognizing that we lack the right personnel for it. Gengen is 2nd nature to Sanchez. Welbz is good at it. Believe you me, on a day he gets out of bed from the right side Walcott can be so effective counter pressing.

    For the others: Giroud goes through the motion. Ozil finds it distasteful. Iwobi hasn’t got a clue. Rambo is sluggish. Xhaka has a slow burning fuse attached to his response mechanism. Le Coq is 1st class but he should be in his naturally habitat in front of the CD.

    So what does Wenger do? He asks them to defend spaces instead. To patrol the corridors, the passing lanes. He adapts to his strength abandoning his weakness to take care of itself.

  21. The spanking of City by Everton lays bare how comprehensively Guardiola out-tactic’ed Arsene Wenger at the Etihad, and masked his side’s inadequacies (plus lack of strikers and a DM). I can live with nearly all of our bad results this season — not that one. If you want evidence that Arsene is yesterday’s man — to still entertain the notion that we are still in the title race — look at results that.

    Oh by the way, the best coach is the league right now is plying his trade in the arse end of north London. Koeman, having bested Wenger at two clubs and Pep today, is doing his credentials the world of good.

    As for Pep, this is what it looks like operating in a competitive league, and not one in which you have by far the best team in a monopoly league, or inherited one of the greatest ever collection of players in a duopoly league.

  22. Pep would start again from scratch. Would he make it? Big, big question. Might ’cause he has a lot of money backing him.

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