Match Review: Swansea City 2 – 2 Arsenal

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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.

swansAs 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.corner1So 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!

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Match Preview: Swansea City vs Arsenal

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FA Cup time! And a must-win match for Arsenal against a Swansea City side that quite frankly we didn’t turn up against last time we played and lost 2-0 to them. So assuming the players aren’t too exhausted from their disappointing match against Southampton(where they didn’t appear to use any energy) we should be in for a better contest this time around. Looking at Swansea’s recent form and efforts this season in the league it would be reasonable to expect a game in a similar mould to the recent one against Newcastle, although without the ridiculous scoreline. Let me explain.

Swansea play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, opting to attack down their right wing and through the center,  prioritising thru balls as their chosen method of breaking through defenses to score. This is similar to the style Newcastle employs in attack and like them, Swansea also like to play possession football in their own half with short sharp passing and don’t heavily pressure their opponent. Where this game will differ is that Swansea have the majority of their starting eleven fit for this match and are far better at both keeping possession and holding onto a lead once they have it. And this is the biggest problem we will face against them, stopping them from scoring first. If we look throughout the season, Arsenal have done best against teams that have played somewhat erratically. By that I mean teams that have come out swinging, tried to score goals and allowed us to play counter-attack and in general, they’ve been games that are very open with end to end action, and Arsenal have simply outscored their opposition. So it stands to reason that if we manage to stop them scoring first we could do some real damage. Teams like Swansea with thru ball strategies and slightly shaky defense lines are far better suited to playing counter-attacking football so to take the lead against them would really be grabbing the initiative in this match.

Defensively is where they are weakest, Swansea have struggled to prevent teams from creating scoring opportunities this season, which is in sharp contrast to their impressive home record of last season. Their biggest weakness unfortunately for us is allowing teams to get in good positions to take long shots and conceding from set pieces, neither of which we are very good at, unless the likes of Arteta or Cazorla decide to have a ping from range(and I hope they do), so we’ll be much better off exposing the other weaknesses they have, which are winning aerial duels and dealing with tricky, skillful opposing players. To this end I think we’ll see Giroud starting at Center Forward for this one with Walcott’s pace and trickery utilised on the right wing. Swansea’s left wing isn’t particularly geared towards attacking so the chances of Walcott getting in behind their back line will be less and I would expect the game to therefore be decided from the left. Assuming Arsenal mean business in this match I’d expect Podolski and Gibbs to be too much for Swansea’s right wing to handle and although their midfield is strong, Cazorla should still be able to link up well with these two and create enough chances for Giroud to do some damage. The fact that they have trouble defending aerially will just play into Giroud’s hands all the more and I expect him to play an important role in this match.

Overall our lineup is likely to be similar to previous weeks with the exception of Walcott playing at right wing instead of center forward.  However we may see a change at the back also, given that Swansea are fond of thru balls and their rather deadly player Michu is no slouch I wouldn’t be suprised to see Koscielny partnering Vermaelen at the back instead of the slower Mertesacker. I would also expect Arsenal to really come out of the blocks tonight as I believe Wenger would be most keen on giving some rest to key players like Cazorla with the match against Manchester City looming just around the corner. A tactic of going out guns blazing, taking a solid lead and then consolidating by bringing on a holding player like Ramsey may well be Wenger’s tactic for this one.

Swansea City Dangermen: Without a doubt it’s Michu. The 2 million pound Spanish wonder has been scoring goals for fun in the Premier League with 13 already and last time we played them and sat back in the final minutes he made us pay. Their right winger Hernandez must also be kept quiet.

Result Prediction: Assuming Arsenal come out to play this time I’ll say 3-2 Arsenal

Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny,Vermaelen, Gibbs, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: This has the potential to be a really open ended game, both teams boast attacking firepower and questionable defensive flaws. A game where if either team doesn’t come out firing and put in the effort, the other team could really humiliate them on the scoreboard. I think Arsenal will pinch it but I’m expecting a high tempo, mistake-riddled match and a real nail biter. Fortunately this is an away match so we can rely on our mad away fan support to cheer the boys on to victory, Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea City

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After a slightly disappointing draw against Everton I was hoping for a better result against Swansea but in my mind I knew that given the level of fatigue on our players, we would have a hard time against an impressive Swansea side. That we kept them at bay till the 88th minute is a credit to our back 4 and goal keeper, more than a team performance. Arsenal enjoyed more possession, dominated the aerial duels and had a higher passing accuracy than Swansea, why then did Swansea create more chances and have more shots? The answer is actually pretty simple, the majority of our passing was lateral ie sideways. This wasn’t the fault of the midfield either. While it’s certain that both Arteta and Cazorla are suffering from being overplayed, they were still the best players on the pitch for us and Wilshere also did a good job in the pivot with Arteta. But our attackers were dismal. They were so lazy that our formation actually changed from our usual 4-4-1-1 system to a 4-3-3, that’s how far forwards the wingers Walcott and Podolski were playing. This was also the cause of the many thru balls in this match, our midfield had to play further forward in order to try and link up with the lazy front three, which in turn meant that Vermaelen played in a more advanced role to keep the link to the midfield and this created space in behind that Swansea exploited. Our wingers also offered very little in the way of defensive support for their fullbacks, Podolski had a paltry 22 touches all game while Walcott appeared to be more industrious with 44 touches. However to the trained eye Walcott’s performance had all the hallmarks of a player who doesn’t give a toss and it’s clear to me he will be leaving either in the transfer window or the end of the season. Heatmaps never lie and it shows that our usual wide playing winger, drifted inwards towards the Swansea defense. Why would he do this? Because he doesn’t want the ball. Drifting close to the defense appears as if you’re being industrious and wanting the ball when in actual fact you’re ensuring that your team mate sees that you’re heavily marked and therefore not an option. There was plenty of space for Walcott out wide, he just chose not to use it. As for Podolski I’m not too sure what his problem is. Gibbs is back in the side playing wide for him so that’s not the issue and leads me to speculate as to whether he’s carrying some sort of injury or if he’s just not fit enough for the Premier League. He’s starting to remind me a little of Chamakh, starting the season red hot and just petering out into invisibility. God help us if he visits the same Swedish hookers that destroyed Chamakh’s confidence…

Just look at these heatmaps

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Which leads me to Gervinho. I’ve never been a great fan of this guy, I think he has the decision making ability of a kamikaze pilot and the gentle touch of a rapist but on occasion he does do well. Sadly this was not one of those times. Gervinho is very different to Giroud in that he creates space for himself whereas Giroud creates space for the team. The difference is that Giroud’s movement can pull defenses apart like we saw against Tottenham. Gervinho however will only run into space to score goals and allow the oppositions defense to remain organised throughout the match. Swansea’s defense for the most part marked him tightly and prevented passes from Cazorla reaching him, resulting in only 27 touches of the ball but the Arsenal players still picked him out with a few crosses and his finishing efforts from these were simply not good enough. I’m not saying that each time a free cross is received from 8 yards he should score but he damn well should be getting his header on target and forcing a save. It just shows more and more that we really do need a secondary option for Giroud and if Chamakh once again can’t make the bench for this game then his time at Arsenal really is over and we need to look at realistic replacements. I see Gervinho as a cover for the right wing and nothing more, certainly not a viable replacement for Olivier Giroud and I can confidently say that if Giroud had been on the pitch we would’ve won the game.

On to the positives. Our back 4 did a good job of limiting Swansea’s chances although Vermaelen and Gibbs were on occasion caught out of position. Podolski bears some blame here for not dropping back and picking up the wide option, leaving Gibbs to do the job and isolating Vermaelen 2 on 1 with a player in front of him and a wide runner, which was perfectly illustrated during one very dangerous thru ball and shot in the first half that Szczesny dealt with expertly. Szczesny was excellent in this match, producing several fine saves and deservedly earning Man of the Match. Vermaelen’s advanced position was slight cause for worry with several dangerous thru balls nearly allowing Michu to score but thankfully he had the pace to make up for his lack of positioning. I will however still breathe easier when Koscielny is back in the starting lineup as he is far more solid. Jenkinson showed vast improvement from his efforts against Aston Villa, making far more attacking runs to the corner flag and whipping in several dangerous crosses, just as Gibbs does on the left wing. The other great positive to come out of this is the return to fitness of Rosicky which will hopefully mean much needed rest for Cazorla, to allow him to return to his best for us.

So basically a combination of fatigue for our key players in Cazorla, Arteta and Podolski prevented us from creating more chances to score as well as a very lack lustre front 3. Gervinho in particular is just not the type of player we required on the pitch to drop deeper and link up play, he tended to drift towards the left nearer the tired Cazorla, rather than the middle where Wilshere was. This is why we saw so little direct passing throughout the match. While I understand Giroud has a knock and needs rest his presence was sorely missed for this one. The late loss I contribute to Wenger refusing to lie down in this one and continuing to go for the win in the dying minutes, something that every manager knows is a dangerous premise since players are generally tired and more prone to mistakes at the end of a match, epitomised in the easy thru ball Michu latched onto to score the winner. I certainly hope the irony of the draw against Everton isn’t lost on those fans who cried out that the manager “didn’t know what he’s doing” when this time instead of a defensive substitution to protect the draw result, Wenger opted to bring on the offensive and not fully fit Tomas Rosicky instead and lost the game in the dying minutes. Suddenly that 1 point looks quite attractive when that happens.

So with Olympiacos next and group qualification assured I’d like to see a very young side start with the likes of Arshavin and Chamakh in there providing experience. Having seen Wenger’s named squad for the match I’m extremely pleased to see that Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Podolski, Giroud and Mertesacker are all absent for this one. Wenger’s comment post-match about “There are many players who need a rest, because they are on the verge of getting injured. Some played with knocks today.” scares the hell out of me. To me it smacks of the hamstring injury that plagued Cesc Fabregas during his time with Arsenal that was caused by overplaying him. We need to avoid this at all costs, even if it means playing a weakened side and losing the occasional match. 1 or 2 poor results or a terrible season? Your choice..

Time to see what our young Gunners can do, hopefully they show some of the older players what it truly takes to earn the right to wear the red and white jersey, Come On You Young Gunners!