Monday, 18 March 2013

Crucial away win in Swansea

Swansea 0-2 Arsenal

Arsenal followed their impressive performance away to Bayern Munich with an equally resolute display at Swansea on Saturday. The Gunners defence once again received the plaudits at the final whistle, having restricted their hosts to absolutely no shots on target.

During the first half, although Swansea enjoyed greater possession as they played the ball to one another in neat triangles; there was a feeling of calmness amongst the Arsenal players, whereas previously calamity always appeared to be on the horizon. The defence was once again resolute, with plenty of communication, particularly from Lukas Fabianski and Laurent Koscielny and consequently worked as one complete unit. As a result, the home side were only really able to create half chances during the opening period of the game with their attacking threat fizzling out as the match wore on. It was somewhat telling that while Swansea made the Gunners chase the ball for large periods of the first half, it was Arsenal who created the better chances and could count themselves rather unfortunate to not be leading at half time.

On two occasions Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had seen his powerful efforts strike the crossbar, when his tenacity had deserved more. First, with only five minutes played, the young Englishman collected a pass from Diaby on the edge of the box and surged past Angel Rangel, before cutting inside and unleashing an excellent shot towards the top corner of the goal, which had Michel Vorm completely beaten, but unfortunately cannoned back off the crossbar. Santi Cazorla then had his head in his hands shortly afterwards as he saw his long range effort just saved by Vorm, before Oxlade-Chamerlain was set up once again by Diaby to let fly on goal from outside the box, this time however, his shot bounced off the top of the crossbar.  

Having resisted the Swansea passing metronome in the first period, Arsenal slowly began to take control of the game and assert their authority during the second half. However, as against Bayern Munich, they were struggling to create clear cut goal scoring opportunities, with Theo Walcott largely anonymous on the wing and Olivier Giroud failing to dominate the Swansea defence in the aerial battles. More often than not, the Frenchman would not win his header and the Arsenal attack would fizzle out before it had even started. Yet on the rare occasions when Giroud was able to head the ball back, the Arsenal midfield were too slow to get up the pitch and support him and so Swansea would invariably just regain possession once again.

Abou Diaby in particular was not able to impose himself in the middle of the park and appeared far too sluggish in getting himself high up the pitch to support the attack, especially as the game wore on. It was no surprise therefore to see the Frenchman replaced, with twenty minutes remaining, by Aaron Ramsey. Although the Welshman does have plenty of detractors amongst the Arsenal faithful as a result of his poor ditribution, he does often provide a higher intensity to the game when brought on from the bench; with his willingness to chase the ball down, enabling the Gunners to collectively press higher up the pitch.  

With the clock ticking down and Arsenal desperately needing all three points, the away side began to exert more and more pressure in the final third and got the required breakthrough in the 74th minute thanks to excellent work by Cazorla on the left flank. The Spaniard expertly made his way towards the by-line before cutting the ball back into the middle of the box. With two Arsenal players stood behind him, ready to convert Cazorla’s cutback, Giroud should have dummied the ball, but instead decided to attempt to take the chance himself. Unfortunately the Frenchman’s heavy first touch meant the opportunity to shoot on goal had gone and he could only poke the ball to Nacho Monreal, who had surged forward to support the attack. The Spaniard did not hesitate at all in taking on the shot and his effort bounced off the turf, across goal and beyond the reach of Vorm to give the Gunners the lead.   

It was the crucial break through that Arsenal had needed and it was now essential that they held onto their lead. Wenger’s side did just that, easily withstanding any Swansea pressure, and with injury time fast approaching caught their hosts out on the break. Aaron Ramsey was released on the right flank and with only one Swansea defender between him and Gervinho, the Welshman was able to lay the ball square into the path of his fellow substitute for the Ivorian to finish the game, slotting the ball past the onrushing Vorm. It was Gervinho’s first league goal since September and will hopefully provide him with some much needed confidence for the Premier League run-in.

At the final whistle on Saturday, Wenger could take huge satisfaction from a job well done by his side. They had managed to withstand the early Swansea pressure, having enjoyed little possession at the start of the game, but still restricted the home side to half chances at best. This was a huge result for the Gunners, against a team who have notoriously caused them problems in the past and in fact had dominated proceedings from start to finish in the league game at the Emirates Stadium, earlier in the season.  

With Tottenham losing for the second league game in a row on Sunday, the seven point advantage they had enjoyed over Arsenal following the North London derby has suddenly shrunk to four points. The Gunners also have a game in hand, but must concentrate on applying as much pressure on Tottenham as possible, by continuing to win their games. Should Arsenal embark on a winning run at this stage of the season, Spurs will become edgy, their supporters will quickly get on the players’ backs and the Gunners need to make sure they are in a position to take full advantage. Wenger’s side must now continue to build on their recent impressive defensive displays as well as improving their attacking game. The race for fourth place could once again go right down to the wire and Arsenal cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

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