Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Kolasinac inspires Gunners

Arsenal 2-1 Swansea

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Arsenal produced their third comeback victory in the space of a week on Saturday as they overcame a disciplined Swansea City side, having earlier gifted them the lead.

Arsene Wenger reverted back to the starting eleven he has mainly utilised in the league this season, completely changing the side that had beaten Norwich in the League Cup in mid-week. Yet despite having been rested during the week, the first half performance left much to be desired. The Gunners build up play was slow and cumbersome, with passes often going astray as Arsenal struggled to build momentum and create goal scoring opportunities on a regular basis.

Swansea came to the Emirates with a set game plan, to sit deep, soak up pressure and then hit the Gunners on the break and for large periods of the first half they frustrated the home side immensely, without really creating any chances of their own. In fact Swansea scored with their very first shot on goal, as had Everton the previous week, and as was the case at Goodison Park, the goal owed much to Arsenal mistakes.

As the Gunners dawdled on the ball in the middle of the pitch, Swansea stole back possession and as the ball was played forward, Koscielny slipped, leaving a gaping hole at the back. Cech could see all of this unfolding ahead of him and began to step forward appearing to be ready to surge out of the box and clear the danger. However for some reason the goalkeeper, having initially started to move forward, then stopped before starting again. The brief pause in forward movement meant that having initially been the favourite to get to the ball first, Cech now had no chance of beating the Swansea attacker, Sam Clucas, to it and actually left himself in no man’s land as he continued to run forward in his vain attempt to clear the danger. In the end it was a really simple finish for Clucas, who only had to prod the ball underneath the advancing Cech to give the away side an undeserved lead.

Having taken an unlikely lead, Swansea had absolutely no incentive to break ranks and sat back deeper and deeper much to the frustration of the Arsenal players and supporters. In such situations there is a clear need to move the ball quickly and spread the play in order to make the pitch as wide as possible. But Arsenal just did not have the required tempo to their play in order to move the Swansea players out of position and create space. Going a goal down in such games only serves to lift the opposition players and makes the task of securing victory all the more difficult. This is why Arsenal must work harder on the defensive side of their game in order to eradicate the errors which threaten to undermine their progress. Far too often, when they are enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Gunners lose concentration at the back and commit basic and costly errors which can easily change the course of a game.

Having committed such an error for the opening goal, Mertesacker almost gifted Swansea a second as rather than clearing the ball, when in his own penalty area, the German defender hesitated and was robbed of possession. Fortunately Cech came to his rescue, pulling off a fine save, but had the Gunners gone two goals down, it is extremely unlikely that they would have recovered to secure victory.

Arsene Wenger did manage to get through to his players during the half time break and the second half saw a marked improvement in the level of performance. Having looked largely disinterested in the first period, the players suddenly appeared engaged and ready to battle their way back into the game. No player epitomised this more than summer signing Sead Kolasinac. The barrel chested Bosnian has quickly established himself as a cult hero at the Emirates, with his desire, commitment and physical attributes endearing him to the Arsenal faithful. But it is his ability in the final third which can add another dimension to Arsenal’s attacking play. Playing with three at the back puts the onus on the wing backs to get forward in support of the attack and with Bellerin doing this on the opposite wing, it is vital that Kolasinac provides this support from the left wing back position. However getting into the final third is not enough, once there the player must produce an effective final ball, something which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain often found to be beyond his ability. Kolasinac however has the conviction, calmness and skill to be extremely effective in the final third. On a couple of occasions in particular, his link up play with Alexis Sanchez was quite exceptional, with his deft flicks bamboozling the Swansea defenders and setting the Chilean free, while his goal in the 50th minute was executed perfectly. As the ball rolled out towards the edge of the box, Kolasinac had to ensure that he maintained his composure as he ran onto it before sweeping a powerful effort into the far corner of the net. In such circumstances it is all too easy for the player to rush his shot, lose his technique, lean back slightly and then see the ball sail over the bar as a result.

Having scored the equaliser, Kolasinac then set up Aaron Ramsey for what proved to be the winning goal. Again his composure was excellent as he controlled a cross field ball on the left hand side of the penalty area. The control on his chest was superb and allowed him the opportunity to look up and assess his options. Having done that, the next challenge was to execute the pass with the perfect weight. If the pass was too hard or under hit, then the chance would be lost, but the pass from Kolasinac was perfect, enabling Ramsey to place his shot into the bottom corner without hesitation.

Despite only having been at the club for just a few months the impact Kolasinac has had has been quite impressive. He does still need to produce a high level performance in a big game and the next two league games, away to Manchester City and at home to Tottenham, don’t come much bigger. If Kolasinac can impose himself as an attacking threat in those games, then it will not only help Arsenal with their attacking play but also in the defensive side of the game as the opposition full back will be more concerned with covering Kolasinac than getting forward himself. Given Arsenal’s tendency to give away soft goals, winning such a battle could prove pivotal to the outcome of these big games. Comeback victories do show the side’s character, but there are only so many times that a side can overcome a deficit.

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