Well once the dust had settled neither side emerged victorious and to be honest it was that kind of game. On the face of it I can understand how people could be quite bored watching the game until the second half when the game exploded into life, thanks to the injection of Michu into the match. But for me it was an enthralling tactical battle and one that we didn’t do so badly in as it may have appeared. Wenger sprung some real suprises with the starting lineup and while I have my doubts on why the great lumbering Mertesacker started against a team who like to attack via thru balls, I can’t fault the rest of his tactics. Ramsey may be playing out of his comfort zone as a left mid but there’s no denying he was effective at cancelling out Swansea’s usually dangerous right wing attack and also helped to keep possession in midfield. As a direct result of this, Swansea were unable to use their normal tactic of slowly pushing down the right and instead chose to fire in dangerous diagonal long balls to any of their 3 attackers. Arsenal meanwhile kept possession and played high up the pitch while Swansea sat deeper and counter-attacked.
And this is what undid us for their first goal. To put it simply, we took the bait. We were pressing forwards, playing a high line defense while Swansea happily sat back absorbing the pressure, made easy by the slow tempo of the match and then they brought on Michu. And suddenly they had a speedy attacker getting in behind our high positioned defense and the first of these diagonal long balls was pounced upon and finished off by the Spanish talent. Playing Mertesacker as the last man is always risky when playing a high line in my books and while I guess one can argue he was playing to add defensive height in the box, there is more to being good aerially than just being tall and I tend to think both Koscielny and Vermaelen are better aerial defenders than him and should’ve started this match as he had no chance of catching Michu in a foot race. What suprised me most of all is that Swansea didn’t try targeting Sagna at right back who was left isolated and unsupported by Walcott for the majority of the game and as a consequence, appeared to play poorly. Aside from looking tired I don’t think he did much wrong except for the usual lousy crossing attempts. Offensively Walcott’s movement was so random he often didn’t know where to pass to and defensively he was basically left to deal with everything thrown at him on that wing and managed the majority of it with a minimum of fuss, only helped out occasionally by Koscielny.
Our attacking formation throughout this match was uncharacteristically narrow. With Ramsey playing on the left and Walcott drifting inwards, outwards and wherever the hell he damn well pleased there was only Gibbs left to stretch Swansea’s defense even a little bit and this made our attacking efforts much harder. Little wonder then that we had very few clear cut chances in the first half and didn’t really explode into life until the second half where we suddenly started moving the ball around much quicker. Swansea’s midfield went from comfortably passing the ball around and having time to pick a pass, to being aggressively pressed and making individual mistakes as a result of the pressure. This is where we started to dominate, even before Podolski was subbed on and turned the match on its head, Swansea started panicking, lost their midfield composure and dropped deeper still to try and defend their 1-0 lead. Big mistake. Inviting that much pressure from Arsenal when you’re a top team is a bad idea. When you’re a mid-level team like Swansea it can be catastrophic and quite frankly, they were lucky we didn’t blow them completely off the park. Gibbs who had been an attacking threat all match, suddenly became a deadly force with the introduction of Podolski and Swansea’s defense buckled almost immediately. Giroud was unlucky not to bury a good chance but we never looked like not scoring and 2 in quick succession looked to have the game won, if not for some good old crappy Arsenal defending from a corner. People will blame zonal marking for the goal but really it was a lack of effort to win the ball that caused it. Szczesny did his best to make the goal bigger for Graham to score in by going to ground far too early but it doesn’t change the fact that, like the first goal this one was soft and could’ve easily been avoided with a little more enthusiasm in defense.
So overall I don’t think we did too badly except for not putting away the chances at the end that could’ve made the score a complete blowout. Gibbs was fantastic all game and together with Wilshere’s driving runs forward they spearheaded the attack. Cazorla looked a bit fatigued and could probably do with a match off and Walcott’s positioning was also a little odd for me. I don’t know if Wenger gave him free reign to roam where he pleased but against a more dangerous team, if he leaves Sagna alone like that we could be in real trouble and with Manchester City coming up it’s not something I want to see more of. This is more or less the formation we used and the blue arrows illustrate the way Swansea chose to attack.
As you can see, as a result of our pressing, Swansea were reduced to bypassing our midfield trio and using the width and their pace in behind our defense. This is something to be wary of but reflects well on our midfield. You can also see the lack of width in our attack and the lack of a forward passing option for Sagna, who unsuprisingly racked up quite a few long ball pass attempts in his match statistics. In the second half when we sped our passing up, Swansea enjoyed even less of the ball and sat deeper as they ran out of ideas, inviting the 15 minute onslaught that was made worse by the introduction of Podolski on the left wing, who drove the ball forward and allowed Gibbs to decimate their back line. We scored twice and should’ve scored more. Since many people are complaining about Bould’s preference of Zonal marking I thought I’d also cover that in this review by demonstrating the system. So let’s have a look at that moment when victory was snatched away in true smash n grab style.So if we take a look we can see how the zonal marking system works. Swansea are setup pretty basically with a near receiver to flick on the ball(next to Podolski) and 3 runners who have the task of pushing into the Arsenal goalbox once the flight of the ball is determined, meaning where they have to be to attack the ball. Arsenal have a man on either post and 3 men setup in zonal formation to block the incoming runners, challenge them aerially etc. At this point I’m a bit critical of the two men standing forwards of all this, Arteta and Walcott, since they should really be a part of the blockers wall with only 5 minutes left to play. It’s worth noting here that it is our midfielders that are closer to the goal than the defenders. There are two reasons for this. Firstly to speed up the quick counter-attack by advancing the positioning of the defenders and allowing the midfielders to pass to somebody as they sweep forwards once Arsenal have cleared the danger. And secondly to play a higher offside trap incase a player should accidently misplace a pass and leave an opposition player right in front of our goal with the ball at his feet. This goal however was just unfortunate, the red arrow on the photo shows where Podolski’s glancing header ended up and the green arrow shows the safe heading option that would’ve secured the game for us. Nothing to do with zonal marking, just a missed clearance and subsequent poor defensive work by the blockers who made no move to shut down the runners’ movement, resulting in the goal.
In conclusion this is a game we should’ve won but didn’t do anything terribly wrong in. We lacked some energy in defense and fell for a very good sucker punch when Michu scored but overall we got the basics right, successfully upped the tempo when necessary and passed the ball around better than we have in previous weeks despite the deceptive appearance of the game. If we play like that in the replay I am confident of blowing Swansea City out of the water and for now I’m content to simply look forward and await the match against Manchester City.
And finally, one more look at this, what a beautiful lobbed pass and volley!