Wednesday, 26 March 2014

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Arsenal 2-2 Swansea

Arsenal’s season simply reverted to type yesterday with another lacklustre display confirming the end of their title challenge and reducing the season run in to yet another scramble for a top four finish.

In the days following the disastrous defeat away to Chelsea, Arsenal players such as Mikel Arteta as well as manager Arsene Wenger, released statements that suggested the squad was ready to put aside that defeat and respond in the correct manner at home to Swansea, making them pay for the hurt and frustration experienced against Mourinho’s team. But talk is cheap, as they say, and what was produced at the Emirates yesterday was as equally pathetic as the display at Stamford Bridge.

Changes were made to the starting line up with Flamini deployed alongside Arteta at the base of the midfield to give the team some stability against a Swansea team who were bereft of confidence themselves, having failed to win any of their previous eight games. Yet from the very first minute of the game, there was no evident drive to Arsenal’s play as they ponderously played in front of Swansea’s defensive lines, playing square pass after square pass, time and time again, with little or no penetration. There was a distinct lack of passion or desire to right the wrongs of Saturday, with barely any player in red and white displaying willingness to drive at the opposition and take the game to them. 

The closest Arsenal came to opening the scoring during the opening exchanges was a snap shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain, which flew straight at Vorm in the Swansea goal, who made a comfortable save.  Then with only 11 minutes played, Neil Taylor’s cross found Wilfred Bony in the Arsenal penalty area and the Ivory Coast international easily outmuscled Thomas Vermaelen in the air to head Swansea into the lead. It had only been their first attack of the game, but the way Vermaelen allowed himself to be so easily brushed aside was indicative of Arsenal’s fragility. The Belgian has rarely featured this season and rumours abound that he will not be at the club next season. However he is still the club captain and on nights such as these should be leading by example. Unfortunately, Vermaelen is no longer the same player who enthralled the Emirates crowd during his first season with the club and cannot be relied upon.

There was no real response from the Gunners to going a goal down. They enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but did very little with it, except for when Cazorla forced Vorm into a good save and Swansea were therefore rather comfortable.  Arsenal may have won several corners during the first half but rarely threatened the goal with any of them, apart from Mertesacker’s near post header, which found the side netting.

During the second half, the pattern of the game remained the same, with Arsenal’s ludicrously slow build up play, erratic, misplaced passes and clear lack of ideas once they reached the Swansea penalty area, resulting in frustration amongst the home crowd. The players owed their fans a performance following their disgraceful display at Chelsea, but they were failing miserably. The team were clearly lacking natural width and it is ridiculous to think that Theo Walcott is the only out and out winger at a club this size. A look at the bench didn’t offer much hope either, although Wenger did decide to replace Oxlade-Chamberlain with Podolski.

The German international did at least offer some semblance of pace on the wing and also has the natural ability of a goal poacher. In the 73rd minute it was he who got Arsenal back into the game, thanks to excellent work from Kieran Gibbs. Far too often, as the Gunners attacked, Gibbs would cut inside rather than remain out wide to offer width to the team. On this occasion however, the young left back picked up possession, got his head down and surged towards the by-line, getting past the Swansea defender with ease, before playing the ball back to Podolski to steer the ball home and restore parity.

Having scored the equaliser, Podolski immediately turned provider as the Gunners took the lead less than a minute later. Swansea lost possession from the restart and the ball was played out wide to Podolski, who raced forward before unleashing a low ball into the path of Giroud, for the Frenchman to score his 19th of the season; he had done little else all game.

The away side were rocking but Arsenal didn’t turn the screw and reverted back to the insipid display they had served up during the previous seventy minutes. Swansea pushed forward in search of an equaliser and Wenger decided to hand Kim Kallstrom his Arsenal debut in an attempt to shore things up. However the Gunners were unable to hold on and with only a few seconds of normal time left Leon Britton was allowed to waltz through on goal unchallenged. Szczesny came off his line in an attempt to smother the ball at Britton’s feet, but just as he was about to do so, Mertesacker slid in with a tackle which diverted the ball onto Szczesny’s legs and the ball then rebounded off Flamini and into the net.

It was a terrible blow for Arsenal but in truth it was exactly what they deserved. They had turned up for only one minute out of the ninety and hoped to scrape through with a victory having done the bare minimum required. In fact, had the referee not blown for full time when he did, the Gunners may well have ended up losing the game as Swansea were clean through on goal when Lee Probert signalled the end of the match. As the Arsenal faithful filed out of the Emirates Stadium last night, there could no longer be any doubt about their side’s title credentials. The players have talked a good game all season, but ultimately, when the time came to stand up and be counted, they have been found wanting.

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