Arsenal vs. Swansea City: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
September 10th, 2011 shall always be known as the day that hope was restored to the Gunners. Now, when I say hope, I mean just that... HOPE. Not confidence. Not destiny. Hope. It's a dangerous word that can get people into a lot of trouble and set one up for the ultimate in disappointments. Arsenal FC and Swansea City played a game that had many of us on the edge of our chairs (especially in the closing 10 minutes) and did little to settle the beating hearts of the Arsenal faithful who are desperate for their heroes to claim their position as a Top 4 club in the Premier League.
With that being said, here it is: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Arsenal's first victory of the 2011-2012 EPL campaign.
That is all.
Just kidding! Arsenal actually showed some excellent play that was reminiscent of the Gunners of ages gone. They dominated possession in the first half and looked threatening throughout the first 45 minutes with Szczęsny making a terrific save during the half's only real moment of doubt. In fact, Szczęsny's clean sheet was mostly due to his aggressiveness on the ball as he was constantly in the right position to make plays on long through passes to Swans' speedy Nathan Dyer. Rarely was the young keeper found out of position with the one ball that came his way and caught him unawares was a backpass from one of his own teammates. Truly, Wojciech Szczęsny was a good for the Gunners.
New signings fitting in! Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta looked to be in fine form and comfortable in their first starts for Arsenal. Neither was perfect, but both were very effective and the side would be much poorer had they not been signed. One of Mertesacker's mistakes led to a deadly chance by Swansea in the first 10 minutes, but that was really the only moment that the new CB looked inconsistent. His tackling and passing were efficient and his positioning was everything most of us expected from the German international. Add to it that he looked great paired with Koscielny seems to be promising.
Arteta, too, put on a strong showing, fading towards the end, but constantly in the right place and making passes that remind us of another Spaniard that once played for Arsenal. True, he lacked a lot of Cesc's flair, but his style and effort showed why he was such a crucial signing for a floundering Arsenal side.
Arshavin scored! Not only did he score, but it also was a huge bit of luck! And luck is something that hasn't seemed to favor Wenger's charges. Between injuries that go from paper cuts to open-heart surgery and things just not falling Arsenal's way, sometimes I wonder if Wilshere and Vermaelen have been kicking black cats at mirrors while standing under rickety ladders. But for all off that bad luck, Arsenal had a few strokes of it today. A rifle shot of a free kick that would have likely beaten Szczęsny clipped the bar (he was there, but the ball had such pace, it may have yet beaten him had it been lower). Danny Graham missed a wide open net in the chaos of a corner that should have leveled the match. And, of course, Michael Vorm's fatal gaffe that placed a ball at Andrei Ashavin's feet with an open net in front of him and gave the Gunners their first win of the EPL season.
No red cards! Arsenal made it through a full match in the EPL without having anyone sent off! Considering their recent degeneration into the EPL's most notorious, it's a feat that Arsenal finished the match with all 11 players.
Chamakh maybe making another early-season push for excellence? Marouane Chamakh was brought to Arsenal to win in the air and he was so close to scoring that one can't help but feel sorry for the man. A lethal cross allowed the Moroccan forward to set himself, rise and connect with his head, only to be beaten by an in form Michel Vorm. A lot of people may look at it negatively as it was another goal taken away, but I'd like to look at it for what it was...a player trying to make a play with his best asset...his head.
Not: Arsenal Romped! Nor is it: Arsenal Destroys Swansea. Or better yet: Gunners Blast Swans! The fact that Arsenal edged out a 1-0 victory is almost as depressing as reading about Manchester United racking up a 5-0 win over Bolton (Rooney Hat Trick) and Manchester City scoring three (all from Aguero) over Wigan while also keeping a clean sheet. No; Arsenal limped past the newly-promoted Swans and barely won. The last 15 minutes or so was attack after attack from a Swansea side that seemed determined to level the game and missed a number of chances that were given to them on a plate.
Pace is a threat. We already knew that the Gunners' defense was a bit leaky and the tendency of Gibbs, Koscielny and Sagna to go forward often leaves the back line exposed. We saw it again today with the deep ball from Swansea as they exploited one of their few advantages. True, they never scored, but they threatened plenty and a deft touch or two would have seen Swans draw even or possibly take the lead. A team with better skill on the ball or more skilled attackers would have punished the Gunners as Manchester United did a fortnight ago.
Wenger seems determined to use players that have potential but probably should not have been playing in a fixture of this importance. I fully support the development of the Arsenal youth as that is part of why the Gunners have maintained their position as a Top 4 club in the EPL, but I was a bit perplexed by the inclusion of Coquelin instead of more offensive firepower. I would have expected Park Chu-Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Ryo Miyaichi. I'll reserve judgement on the use of Chamakh instead of Park as the Moroccan played reasonably well, but the international break showed that "Ju"—as Park likes to be called—is currently in fine form and a much more aggressive player.
Possession. The game ended with Arsenal edging Swansea City on possession after dominating in the first half. For a team with the caliber of Arsenal to only walk away with 57 percent of the time on the ball is a bit of a shock when they are playing a team like Swansea. Truth be told, a lot of that is attitude and the second half of this game showed that Swansea seemed to WANT it more. That doesn't bode well for a team that hasn't found their scoring touch.
No, Emmanuel Frimpong didn't just take a "Judo Kick!" to the chest. What he DID do is miss the target. Horribly. And he wasn't alone. Arsenal created something in the area of 20 shots yesterday and managed to be "on target" with only four of them. Granted, some such as Ramsey's shot from outside the box were close, but close only counts in hand grenades. You simply can't score without putting the ball within the boundaries of the goal itself.
The normally clinical Robin van Persie missed a golden opportunity or two as well, with passes coming in to his weaker foot where he couldn't execute the appropriate volley or one-touch it into the back of the netting. His second-half shot that rolled off the post to the right was masterfully opened and taken but, ultimately, it was also still a miss. The gunners MUST improve their aim!
Lack of discipline. No red cards for the Gunners today, but their lack of discipline is still evident. Frimpong is a strong, youthful and exuberant presence on the pitch, but his aggression needs to be controlled. Once again, he gave up a foul on the edge of the box that led to possible points. A lethally honed in Manchester United side showed what they could do from well-placed set pieces and Arsenal were lucky to get away with it this week.
Theo Walcott was booked for complaining. He just simply stopped play. How often do you her the term, "play until the whistle?" Not only was the whistle not blown, but Theo also gave up, threw his hands in the air and simply walked away from possession, allowing Swansea to take the ball. You don't just stop. Ever. No need for us to have two sulky Arshavin types when calls don't go their way.
Arteta's reputation precedes him and that is, perhaps, the only reason that he was not the recipient of two yellow cards as his tackles in the second half were sometimes late and pretty powerful. They weren't dirty, but he was dragging his boot behind play and it eventually led to referee Stuart Attwell deciding that enough was enough.
Most importantly, lack of discipline saw yet another golden opportunity squandered on the counter-attack. Towards the end of the game, with a hard-charging 4-v-1, Ramsey got a hold of the ball on his weaker foot and promptly gave the ball back to the one Swansea City player between the Arsenal attack and the keeper. Every now and then, a defensive player makes an interception like that because he possesses the mental acumen to read the game and make a brilliant play. In this case, it was horrible execution by a side that was hurrying instead of maintaining their composure and turning overwhelming odds into a second goal to seal the victory.
Still no creativity. There were certainly moments of inspired play, chiefly some through passes by Arteta and a wonderful cross by Gibbs that Chamakh almost scored from, but this was not the Arsenal we are used to seeing. THAT team has shown up only in the Champions League and even then, only for moments. Benayoun looked to provide an attacking spark, but his control of the ball was a bit careless. The Gunners sorely miss the presence of Jack Wilshere who commands the midfield with flair and ability, but they will be getting Gervinho back next week and perhaps that will inspire the midfielders to play more audaciously and creatively as he drives forward. It's only the first game with the new acquisitions, but if Arsenal are to be successful, they must find that swagger that inspires creativity.
In the End
Arsenal managed to come away with a crucial three points to remove themselves from the Premiership cellar, but the road back isn't going to be a cakewalk. Against a team that they should have run roughshod all over, Arsenal barely scored a victory and are very much a team under development. How long they stay in the "under construction" mode will have a large bearing on whether they manage to finish the season in a respectable position.