Arsenal’s wobbling title challenge will be dealt another major blow if they fail to beat Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium.
After losing to Manchester United at the weekend, the Gunners know they must start to pick up points if they are to catch Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsene Wenger’s men have a brilliant opportunity to win the league this season, but they seem incapable of seizing the initiative in the title race.
Swansea are not exactly an ideal opponent. Since Francesco Guidolin took charge, they’ve improved dramatically. They also have a good record at the Emirates Stadium, with two wins and a draw from their last three visits.
Buoyed by a strong performance at Tottenham, they’ll fancy their chances of getting a result against an Arsenal side drained of confidence.
Date: Wednesday, March 2
Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET
Location: Emirates Stadium, London
Television coverage: Premier League Extra Time (U.S. only)
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra Read (U.S. only)
W (0-2) vs. Bournemouth
W (2-1) vs. Leicester City
D (0-0) vs. Hull City
L (0-2) vs. Barcelona
L (3-2) vs. Manchester United
W (1-2) vs. Everton
D (1-1) vs. West Bromwich Albion
D (1-1) vs. Crystal Palace
L (0-1) vs. Southampton
L (2-1) vs. Tottenham
This has not been a good few days for Wenger. The loss at Old Trafford has prompted a furious storm of outrage among the Arsenal fans. However, as ever, he’s unmoved.
Speaking to Arsenal.com, he stated his belief that a united Arsenal can still contest the title:
I’m never surprised by the criticism that comes—that’s part of the media today. Part of the opinion is always a bit excessive and emotional, but we have to deal with that and I don’t complain about it.
Yes, that’s what we want to do [and use criticism as motivation]. We want to transform the negatives into positives around us and create even more solidarity.
Let’s not go overboard, we do not play to be relegated. We are playing to fight for the title. That’s why we have to put criticism in the right place. After 20 years I’m used to it.
That’s what we want, to fight together until the last game of the season and not give up when you have a bad game or a bad result. That’s what fans and players and teams and clubs are about.
With Guidolin suffering with a chest infection, first-team coach Alan Curtis was on media duty for Swansea this week.
He also spoke about the importance of getting over a disappointment from the weekend, insisting that Swansea should take heart from their performance in the 2-1 defeat at Tottenham.
Per Chris Wathan of WalesOnline, Curtis said:
We can take some solace from the way we defended and while it's disappointing to lose, we need to take that same spirit into Wednesday.
We worked our socks off and if we can show the same fight it will stand us in good stead. Results went well for us at the weekend and it would have been a bonus to have picked something up so we have to move on.
It's another tough game at Arsenal and we could do Tottenham a favour but we have to look after ourselves.
The manner in which the two sides bounce back from their previous games could have a huge influence in determining the result on Wednesday night.
The latest injury news from Arsenal’s medical room is that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could miss as many as eight weeks with a problem acquired while playing against Barcelona. Other than that, long-term absentees Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla remain sidelined.
Wenger still faces a number of selection dilemmas. Gabriel Paulista was brought in for the game against United but was awful, so the Gunners boss must now consider reintroducing Per Mertesacker alongside Laurent Koscielny.
Up front, Theo Walcott was equally poor, meaning Olivier Giroud is likely to be granted an immediate reprieve.
Some players need a rest. This game comes between sandwiched between huge fixtures against United and rivals Tottenham, so Wenger may choose to rotate one or two players in the squad.
One in particular who’s likely to sit out is Danny Welbeck, who is still making his way back to full fitness after 10 months on the sidelines.
Predicted Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey; Joel Campbell, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Olivier Giroud.
Swansea will be at full strength for their visit to the Emirates Stadium. The only changes that will be made are likely to be a consequence of players feeling fatigued after their testing match at White Hart Lane.
It’s possible that they will give January signing Leroy Fer his first Premier League start in a Swansea shirt in order to inject some freshness to the team.
Predicted Swansea XI (4-3-2–1): Lukasz Fabianski; Angel Rangel, Federico Fernandez, Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor; Leon Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Leroy Fer; Andre Ayew, Gylfi Sigurdsson; Alberto Paloschi.
Players to watch
Arsenal: Olivier Giroud
Arsenal need Giroud to step up in this game. The Gunners have failed to score in four of their last six home matches across all competitions, and Giroud himself has not scored since the match at Anfield on January 13—a run that takes in nine appearances.
It’s time for the Frenchman to bring that barren spell to an end and get back on the goal trail once again. After starting on the bench against United, he should be fresh and ready for the battle against the Swansea centre-backs.
Swansea: Lukasz Fabianski
After the 2-1 loss at Tottenham, Swansea’s first-team coach was moved to praise the brilliant performance of former Arsenal goalkeeper Fabianski.
Per Wathan of WalesOnline, he said:
Lukasz was fantastic and made some great saves, some were world class but we kept being forced back by waves and waves of attacks because they are so difficult to play against.
Of late, Arsenal have found themselves up against some inspired goalkeepers. In this kind of form, Fabianski is sure to provide them with yet another stern test.