Swansea vs. Arsenal: Complete Premier League Preview
Arsenal only have the Premier League to concentrate on from here on out, but their surprising 2-0 away win over Bayern Munich should inspire confidence for the final 10 games of the season.
The Gunners would have needed to get themselves up for the final stretch anyway, but fans will hope that a very encouraging display against arguably the world's best team in midweek will provide the team with confidence going into a very tricky tie against Swansea on Saturday.
Of the 30 points still left to play for, these are the first three that are on the table for Arsenal—and the first three that they absolutely need to win.
But it will not be an easy task against a Swansea side that has given Arsenal problems numerous times in the past.
The Gunners have only won one Premier League game against the Swans: a scrappy 1-0 in September of 2011, during Swansea's first few games in the Premier League.
Since then, it's been almost all downhill. A depleted Arsenal side got shellacked 3-2 by a Swansea team that closely resembled Barcelona in its play later that season, and Michu struck twice to secure victory at the Emirates earlier this season.
The two teams have met twice in the FA Cup in 2013, with Swansea rallying to match Arsenal's comeback in a 2-2 draw, and the Gunners finally vanquishing their scourge during the replay.
Arsenal's problem when they play the Swans is that their styles are so similar that they clash.
Both sides play an open, attack-oriented game with a strong emphasis on technical ability and passing accuracy. As a result, a counterattack or defensive lapse can come at any second, producing some of the abnormal scorelines that we have seen in this fixture recently.
For Arsenal, much of the focus will be on retaining their shape at the back and preventing the kinds of idiotic mistakes that gave the north London derby to Tottenham recently.
Yet Arsene Wenger will be encouraged by the stellar performance of his defense against Bayern Munich, one of the most potent teams in the world. For the first time in nearly a year, Bayern failed to hit the back of the net at home—Arsenal kept their shape, did not play a high line and dealt with every type of assault that was thrown at them.
Wenger should retain every healthy member of that back five, including Lukasz Fabianski, who performed admirably during his first appearance of the season against such difficult opposition.
Kieran Gibbs appears to have suffered a minor relapse of his prior thigh injury, so Nacho Monreal will come back into the team at left-back. But other than that, everyone should be back.
That includes both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, at the expense of captain Thomas Vermaelen. On Wednesday, the former two performed better than the Belgian has this season—it would only be fair to drop the skipper to the bench.
With Jack Wilshere out, we are likely to see a midfield of Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky (though Abou Diaby could be a factor if he's fit enough). And up front, a repeat of the Cazorla-Walcott-Giroud trio seems likely.
Arsenal will face familiar dangers from Swansea. Michel Vorm is likely to be a force in goal, the Swans midfield will try to press and harry Arsenal into submission and Michu is always a threat to score when he picks up the ball.
But the Gunners really should be able to come through this test. Unpredictability has been the hallmark of their season, but, inspired by a statement-making victory against Bayern Munich and with their backs well and truly up against the wall, quality should win out in the end.
That doesn't mean we won't be treated to an extremely entertaining game on Saturday.
Remember, I will have live blog coverage of the match starting at 10:30, 30 minutes before kickoff, right here.
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