Swansea vs. Arsenal: Serge Gnabry Helps Gutsy Arsenal Grind out Win
On paper, Arsenal vs. Swansea should have been one for the purists.
Both sides share the same possession-based philosophy. They're obsessed with keeping the ball on the ground and attempting to play attractive football. This match ought to have been a feast for the eyes.
It wasn't. Remarkably, Hull's clash with Norwich earlier this season had a higher pass completion rate than this hotly-anticipated fixture. The first half did not produce a single shot on target. Aesthetically, it was a disappointment.
However, in the second half Arsenal showed terrific spirit and even managed to crown the game with two outstanding goals. Arsenal shifted tactics, dropping deeper and breaking with more purpose.
The primary catalyst for change was 17-year-old Serge Gnabry.
Gnabry had not been expected to start after playing the entire 120 minutes of the League Cup tie with West Brom in mid-week. However, with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski all injured, Wenger decided he had no option but to field the teenager.
He was rewarded for his faith. In the first half, Gnabry looked like the only player on the pitch determined to transform possession into penetration. One powerful run just before half-time culminated in a perfectly weighted pass for Olivier Giroud, but the Frenchman screwed his finish wide.
Shortly after the break, a swashbuckling Arsenal counterattack ended with Aaron Ramsey playing a beautiful square ball into Gnabry's path. The young German had shown preternatural awareness to check his run and remain onside. From then on, it was all about technique: his control was instant; his finish immaculate.
Arsenal had the lead.
Gnabry celebrated with all the passion you'd expect from a teenager scoring his first competitive senior goal. In doing so, Gnabry became the second-youngest Premier League scorer in Arsenal's history.
It was not only the attacking side of his game that impressed. Gnabry had drive and audacity going forward, but also showed real discipline to track back and demonstrate his commitment to the defensive side of the game.
A tiring Gnabry was eventually withdrawn for Mikel Arteta as Arsenal sought to see ought the game. By this point, they were two goals to the good. Aaron Ramsey added a second to continue his extraordinary form. The move which led to the goal summed up Arsenal's display: it included a brave sliding challenge from Jack Wilshere, but also an intelligent disguised pass from Olivier Giroud. Ramsey's finish was efficient and emphatic.
A late Ben Davies goal ensured there were some nervy moments, but Wojciech Szczesny's impressive handling helped Arsenal secure the win.
The Gunners now go clear at the top of the Premier League table. Last week against Stoke, the Arsenal fans had Mesut Ozil to thank for three assists. This week, they will reserve their praise for Ozil's less celebrated compatriot, Gnabry.
Based on today's performance, the young winger could have a very bright future.
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