What to say about that? Although wounded by their previous result, Arsenal were presented a perfect fixture in which to try and recover. Swansea are a team in terrible form, slipping down the league and of course, trying to adjust to a new manager still finding his feet. A nice ‘crisp’ night under the lights in our beautiful new stadium was an ideal setting for a match to get us right back on track. Yet rather than attempt to consign Saturday’s abortion to history, the Arsenal players instead decided to simply pick up where they left off at Stamford Bridge. After effectively losing the game in the opening 8 minutes at the weekend, one would think the players would realise the importance of trying to keep things tight during the early exchanges. To their credit, on this occaasion it was a full ten minutes before they actually went behind against Swansea. In a truly baffling passage of play, Swans full back Neil Taylor was given the freedom of Ashburton Grove to stride 30 yards unchallenged before picking out Wilfred Bony who planted his header past Woijech Szezceny; our keeper only able gawp in stunned statuesque silence. The refusal of anyone to even attempt to press Taylor made it all too easy. When people speak about players ‘going missing’, the Arsenal lot quite literally did for that goal! For much of the season, collective defensive responsibility has been arguably the reason we have reached such lofty heights. That ‘system’ however seems to have gone out the window with nobody taking any responsibility to try and hold the ‘unit’ together.
Gunn Powder Puff
Equally disappointing by way of ‘response’ was the feeble showing going forward for much of the game. Aside from a 60 second blitz to temporarily turn the game in our favour, it was a poor display from a limp forward line that barely put the opposition defence under any serious pressure. Olivier Giroud may have scored (and of course, that is a good thing) but his overall performance was both infuriating yet predictable. Constantly out of position, continued failure to provide an outlet and being easily muscled off the ball are unfortunately all things we come to expect. Dare I even say that some people actually expect too much from the Frenchman. An average centre forward playing very much like you’d expect an average centre forward would do. When fans get angry and waste their time and energy abusing him, they fail to realise he performing about par for his ability – perhaps even better at times. For that, we should be… grateful, I guess?
Arsenal might have yielded more on the night had Giroud been more of a presence in the box but even so, you feel that even Just Fontaine or Gerd Muller wouldn't have made too much headway given the poor passing in advanced areas. Time and time again, the final ball would let us down. Moves and transitions would break down all too often thanks to poor decision-making and a wayward distribution of the ball. One could be mistaken for thinking there was some kind of invisible force field preventing the players from making decisive passes. Equally wasteful was the use of the ball in wide areas. Each and every time the ball seemed to break out to the flanks, particularly in the first half, the strategy seemed simply to be to pump the ball in the box with such aimlessness it almost looked deliberate! With only 7 of 34 attempted crosses finding an Arsenal player throughout the game, the inefficiency of this tactic was abundantly clear.
Amazingly however, Arsenal's only two successful crosses in the second half led to our two goals. Firstly, Gibbs and then Podolski, switched tact from the hit-and-hope, “get it into the danger area” speculative efforts, to instead actually trying to pick out a team mate. Who would have thought that it would actually work???
The goals that resulted from this regrettably brief onslaught was about as good as it got for Arsenal on the night. What followed was once again the perfect example of how not to defend as a team as Swansea were essentially invited to push for their equalising goal. The manager later described the team as being ‘too conservative’ during this period of the game. This would have been fine had they actually been capable of shutting up shop rather than, in somewhat comical circumstances, allow Leon Britton to run straight through the defence before three Arsenal players conspired to score a soul-crushing own goal. Flamini may have got the final touch but he was no more at fault than either Mertesacker or Szczesny. Collectively, it was inept defending for a throughly avoidable goal. Some would call it unlucky yet it felt very familiar to goals from previous years. Is the team actually regressing after so much improvement in the earlier part of this season?
Stalling Santi/Art Failure
Concerns about 'going backwards' can be applied to other members of the squad too. In particular, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta whose poor performances against Swansea seem to reflect each player's indifferent form in recent times having been so impressive earlier on in their Arsenal careers. The former still possess unfathomable skill and can be beautiful to watch at times. However, he and his tricky feet seemingly become less and less effective as time goes on. Hopefully he can regain the form that earned him so much adoration from the Arsenal faithful. The talent is still evidently there. The application however, is lacking at present.
Arteta on the other hand looks a shadow of the player he once was. Not for the first time, the game virtually bypassed him and he looked very much his 32 years (happy Birthday, Mik!). Perfect hair and nerves of steel taking penalties are unfortunately no longer enough and one suspects that there is certainly some truth to the rumours that the manager has been looking to recruit in Arteta's position.
Few players came out of this game with much praise but hat's off to Lukas Podolski whose cameo sparked Arsenal's ultimately futile fightback. The problem, it appears, with Podolski is trying to find his best position. Is he a central striker or a wide forward? At times this year he has struggled badly in either position so it was interesting to see him excel in both during those 60 manic seconds. For the equaliser, the German was on the edge to the six yard box to smash home like a true striker and within moments of the restart, it was his darting run down the left wing and square pass that fed Giroud for 2-1.
Kim Done Come
We also got a brief glimpse of loanee Kim Kallstrom, who came on, charged about a bit, had some nice touches and play a raking crossfield ball at one stage that had everybody purring before the attack inevitably broke down. It will be interesting to see what role both he and Podolski play from now until the end of the season but if these glimpses can be expanded to cover longer spells in a match, then we might not have to remain struggling to climb our way out of this pit of despair we find ourselves in.
And why are win despair, you ask? It's still mathematically possible to win the league and we're in the FA Cup semi final, right? All in all, things could be worse. The major worry unfortunately is that things might actually start getting worse. As I said at the top of this piece, Swansea at home would have been the fixture you hand-picked to try and bounce back from Saturday's humiliation but unfortunately, we're seemingly still reeling from it (I get the feeling most players were looking at JonJo Shelvy and still having visions of Oscar running them ragged). Doubts are starting to creep in about our prospects for the remainder of the campaign. Our poor form has coincided with the top three going from strength to strength so, let's face it, we can kiss the title goodbye. Worryingly, however, as we approach our Wembley meeting with Wigan, the prospect of failure is more and more a possibility given our recent slump. In some quarters the FA Cup is (wrongly) being touted as if it is a certainty but the optimism that followed the quarter final win over Everton is fast evaporating. Sod's law also dictates that it is that very same Everton side who could well take revenge by stealing a march on us in the now enshrined annual race for fourth place in the league. By the time Arsenal travel to Goodison in a fortnight, it's highly likely the Merseysiders will be a mere three points behind in fifth and bums will be squeaking all over north North London.
But before that however is the small matter of a home game against a rampant Manchester City who, given our other hammerings this season, are looking poised to possibly inflict the worst of all this weekend. The quite clear fragile nature of our team could well be beyond help. But as we know, football has a way of surprising us all. While I clutch so tightly at this straw I might burst a blood vessel, a rare City off day with Arsenal somehow remembering how to play to their potential and maybe, just maybe...
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