Arsenal: Keys to Defeating Swansea in Crucial EPL Encounter
Unfortunately for Arsenal Football Club's fans, long-serving manager Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game in charge turned out to be an utterly nightmarish encounter—the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea in Saturday's early kick-off is a memory that must be erased, and pronto.
Tuesday night's encounter—a visit from struggling Swansea City—provides Wenger and company with a perfect opportunity to start making amends for the weekend's embarrassment. Despite a lengthy list of present attendees to the club treatment room, with Laurent Koscielny joining those Gunners laid off, Tuesday night's fixture can represent a chance for younger Gunners to make a mark and for those culpable for the Stamford Bridge affair to start to make amends.
What follows is a list of keys for Arsenal to move out of the shadow of ignominy and back into victory's glow with a triumph over Garry Monk's City on Tuesday night.
The Return of the Skipper
Given Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny's emergence as one of the best centre-back pairings in the league (before Saturday, at least), club captain Thomas Vermaelen has had to settle for leading from the bench, or inspiring his colleagues from the dressing room before games or at half-time.
Despite major European suitors reportedly coming calling to line up the Belgian as a summer addition, per Sky Sports, the Belgian remains a key man in Wenger's dressing room—and with Koscielny's injury blight providing a vacancy alongside Mertesacker, Vermaelen will have another chance to lead on the turf when Arsenal turn out at the Emirates on Tuesday night.
Undeterred by his lack of first-team action this season, Vermaelen has had some solid showings in his nine appearances this campaign, and he will undoubtedly welcome the chance to demonstrate his capabilities in what is now a hugely significant fixture for the Gunners.
Perhaps fresh faces in Arsenal's starting XI—a recurring theme in this piece—will prove worthwhile against the Swans, as Wenger seeks answers in the face of crushing failure. Allowing Vermaelen to lead could be a crucial part of that.
With chances to display his worth to the club being so fleeting in the 2013/14 campaign, a unique situation—stepping into the side, a side desperate to avenge their bitterly disappointed and aggrieved fans—Vermaelen has the opportunity to galvanise his cohorts and re-establish the defensive impermeability that has characterised so much of Arsenal's season.
A massive game for Arsenal has translated into a massive game for their skipper.
Give Oxlade-Chamberlain the Boot and Start Serge Gnabry
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may have escaped punishment for his best leaping-salmon impressions from the FA for his handball debacle on Saturday, but his sheer foolishness and poor judgment should still see some form of comeuppance handed his way from Wenger on Tuesday.
As well as the aforementioned fracas, Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of many Gunners who gave a thoroughly poor showing at the Bridge at the weekend, and this should allow 18-year-old wide man Serge Gnabry another shot at first-team action in Arsenal red and white.
Not only will Gnabry's blistering pace and trickery provide more than a challenge for his opposite number, Swansea left-back Ben Davies, but his ambition and hunger for regular action—that have been so wonderfully displayed sporadically throughout the season, notably in his effective role in FA Cup action against Tottenham back in January—will prove a boon for the German youth international.
His link-up play in that game with Tomas Rosicky, for instance, was impeccable at times, and should Rosicky get the nod ahead of Santi Cazorla in the No. 10 role just behind the striker, Arsenal fans could start to salivate at the prospect of the Czech playmaker and Gnabry the speedster in cahoots once more.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, you would suspect, still has a part to play in the game—perhaps as an impact substitute should the game still hang in the balance in the second half. But giving Gnabry—still an unknown quantity to some Premier League defences—the nod might well give City more than they can handle.
It is one of several selection dilemmas plaguing Wenger ahead of Tuesday night's game.
Plump for Yaya Sanogo
If Wenger opts for the unknown quantity in Gnabry on Arsenal's right flank on Tuesday night, he might do well to plump for an even more mysterious force on English shores when it comes to choosing Arsenal's centre-forward.
Yaya Sanogo (pictured alongside Lukas Podolski, who is also in with a shout of starting) has been restricted to a couple of substitute appearances in the Premier League this season (via WhoScored.com)—a season afflicted by a lengthy injury lay-off that kept him on the sidelines and away from contention for starting places.
Yet more recently, in his first taste of FA Cup and Champions League football, Sanogo has looked lively, energetic and, despite lacking some fine-tuning or nuance to his tactical game, has imposed himself physically on opposition defenders and has created chances for himself and his colleagues.
Sanogo's sporadic appearances have obviously come in relief of frontman-in-chief Olivier Giroud, whose inconsistency has come under the microscope in recent weeks. Braces against Sunderland and Everton showed him at his devastating best, but his failure to light up the turf week after week has become more obvious after playing the full 90 minutes in Arsenal's last three games without reward.
Much in the vein of Oxlade-Chamberlain, then, Giroud's role in the Swansea clash could come from the bench. This would give way for Sanogo to create chances for his midfielders, much in the same ilk of his previous performances.
A goal would do wonders for the boy's confidence, but playing the majority of the full 90 minutes could have some serious impact on the game also.
With either Sanogo or Giroud at the helm, Arsenal will remain creative against Swansea, and Wenger should feel safe in the knowledge that his crafty midfielders will create chances for whoever is up top.
More food for thought for Le Professeur.
Return to the Hallmark of Success to Exploit Swansea's Poor Form
Currently lying in fourth in the Premier League table, Arsenal's three visits to the triad of higher-placed sides—Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City—resulted in incapacitating defeats and complete and utter onslaughts, with the Gunners' defense crumbling in the face of oppression and conceding 17 goals from those three games alone.
From their other 27 games, however, they have conceded that very same figure—17 goals. Taking away the first statistic, the second looks frankly quite magnificent and makes for some interesting inference.
First off, it suggests that at home, Arsenal are supremely comfortable in defense. It also suggests that against (nearly) any other team in the league, they are more than happy to deal with any raids on Wojciech Szczesny's goal.
Obviously there is more to it than these suggestions, and it is always worth taking statistics with a pinch of salt—after all, these statistics, despite the losses at the Etihad and at Anfield in the league, would not have predicted the shellacking the Gunners received this past weekend.
These speculations clearly point to the fact that aside from those three forgettable outings, Arsenal's finest strength this season has arguably been their defensive solidity. Many teams have tried and failed to break down Arsenal's back four, and while those three games have provided significant knocks to both Arsenal's confidence and their title challenge, there is still room for hope.
As the old adage goes, you can only beat the team that's put in front of you—and in Swansea City, Arsenal find themselves an opposition side who are without a win in their last eight outings in all competitions, per WhoScored.
Garry Monk's honeymoon period after his transition from player to manager for City is well and truly over, and the long-serving Swan has found himself in deep water in figuring out how to escape from struggle—four points from the drop zone is hardly a safe margin, even at this late juncture in the season.
Swansea haven't been short of goals in recent weeks, having managed to put three past Liverpool at Anfield, and they might fancy their chances against an Arsenal defense looking to recover from total mortification. The recent return of Michu from injury, as well as the decent form of Wilfried Bony, will do little to allay Gunners' fans' fears.
Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that Arsenal restore their defensive strength—under Vermaelen's command—to reinstate their confidence and redeem the atrocity of Saturday.
Tuesday night is all about redemption for Wenger and his side—and rediscovering the tenacity and vitality in the crux of Arsenal's defense is the crucial factor that holds the key to victory for the home side.
Think I've got it spot on? Or think I'm barking up the wrong tree? Have your say—leave me a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter—@callumlarr.