Arsenal + Wales + January = Nightmare.
Twenty years ago it was Wrexham who did the damage in the FA Cup, this afternoon it was Swansea in the Premier League. A 3-2 defeat at the hands of Brendan Rodgers’ side was nothing less than the Gunners deserved following another suicidal away performance.
The result leaves serious question marks hanging over the Gunners top four credentials on an afternoon which Arsene Wenger will want to forget very quickly.
Given our injury problems, the team news was pretty much expected. There was a Premier League debut for Miquel at left-back, while Djourou returned to his place on the right of defence after the sending off against Fulham. One late surprise was the inclusion in midfield of Yossi Benayoun who replaced Mikel Arteta after the Spaniard suffered a mild calf strain in training. On the bench Thierry Henry was joined by Ju Young Park and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal began strongly. After only four minutes Ramsey took responsibility for possession on the halfway line, pushed the ball forward to Song who with one touch fed Arshavin. The Russian spotted a Van Persie run inside the Swansea right-back and the Dutchman was immediately in on goal. He looked to have wasted the chance by delaying and delaying, but then in the blink of an eye calmly slotted the ball home inside Michel Vorm’s. 1-0 to the Gunners – a superb and clinical start.
After the restart Swansea settled and, as expected, kept possession of the ball very well. Rather than press from the front we allowed their defenders far too much time. It was annoying to see given all the talk you hear from the training ground about emulating Barcelona’s ‘defend from the front’ philosophy.
On fifteen minutes Swansea made good use of the ball, worked their way into the box and won a penalty. Spinning in the box Nathan Dyer appeared to be felled by Aaron Ramsey and the referee pointed to the spot. In real time it didn’t look like a poor decision, but having watched the replay it most definitely was. The Swansea man raked his studs down the Welshman’s shin and the correct decision would have been an Arsenal free-kick. It was a strange incident.
Scott Sinclair stepped up and calmly slotted the ball past Szczesny to make it 1-1.
Ramsey nearly made ‘amends’ immediately. After a blocked shot by Van Persie he rounded Vorm and slid the ball back across goal. It was cleared off the line before bouncing back into the keeper’s arms.
It really was end-to-end stuff. Again Swansea pushed forward and controlled the game for five minutes – on the bench Arsene, sporting a tracksuit (wtf?) looked worried. He was right to look perturbed; his side were off the boil and struggling to keep pace with the hosts.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t have taken the lead. Good closing down by Yossi Benayoun on the halfway line saw the Israeli win the ball and play a quick one-two with Arshavin. Releasing the ball swiftly the loanee played in Van Persie who bore down on goal again. Having created a good angle you’d have put money on him scoring, but Vorm had other ideas and stopped a somewhat tame shot from our number 10.
At the other end the Swans put a decent ball into the box from a free-kick which caused all sorts of problems until Miquel cleared off the line. By the 35 minute mark, the home side had had 63% of possession, which is fair to say, not something Arsene Wenger’s sides are very used to. Dyer cut in from the right before firing a good left foot strike which Szczesny grabbed at the second attempt.
At the other end Arshavin was a lively presence, Walcott’s recent malaise appeared to be continuing, while Van Persie was doing his best Adebayor impression by prompting the linesman’s flag at every available opportunity. At half-time there was an underlying sense of frustration.
Straight from the kick-off we created a chance. Van Persie’s quick feet played in Walcott but he blazed over. He’s not scored since the Chelsea game and it showed. As if inspired by the rugby surroundings Arshavin promptly followed suit by also hitting three points from a conversion like shot. Squandered chances – how often have I written that in match reports this season?
Nathan Dyer, a consistent threat, flashed a curled effort past Szczesny’s post before Joe Allen did the same just to remind Arsenal of the fragility of their situation.
Just before the hour mark Swansea took the lead. Ramsey gave the ball away as he moved out of defence, it was quickly played to Dyer and he lashed the ball past Szczesny. It was nothing less than the hosts deserved. Arsenal were very sloppy and were punished.
All over the pitch we gave the ball away as Brendan Rodgers’ side pressed and pressed and pressed. Wenger’s reaction was to throw Thierry Henry and Tomas Rosicky into the mix. Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun were the men to be sacrificed.
Out of nowhere Walcott equalised. Johan Djourou played the winger straight through on goal and he finished delightfully. Of course, because we’re a team full of complete fucking morons we couldn’t help but concede inside 60 seconds. Danny Graham slipping past Koscielny and sliding the ball home. (Both goals)
This Arsenal team. Fucking hell.
From a corner Mertesacker nearly made it 3-3 but his attempt from two yards out was horrible and skewed past the post. The German was removed with 14 minutes remaining to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Song dropping into his centre-back position in defence.
Swansea could have put the game to bed with ten minutes left. A great bit of interplay in the box only being stopped by a last ditch Djourou challenge. Ramsey at this point was having a torrid time. Whether he was being targeted on his return to Wales or not, he couldn’t put a foot right as the home side pressured him whenever he got near the ball. He did have a header on goal though which came close.
Good work by Chamberlain saw the England under-21 cross for Rosicky but not even Marco van Basten would have converted the volley which was attempted. The Czech had another effort a minute later which forced a save from Vorm. Following in, Laurent Koscielny’s acrobatic effort was also gathered. The pressure was mounting, but time was running out.
Four minutes of extra-time didn’t yield another opportunity as Swansea calmly played the ball around at the back before the referee blew the full-time whistle.
In many ways this defeat was more painful than the late loss to Fulham. While that came at the end of a hectic Christmas period and with only ten men on the field, this time there were no excuses.
Rested players, the motivation to close the gap on Spurs, the squad on a high in the aftermath of Henry’s return – all the ingredients were there to start another run. Instead what we got was a horror show.
Next up it’s United at the Emirates – place your bets.