Swansea City 3 Arsenal 2
Sunday, 15 January 2012
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
A magnificent performance, coupled with a questionable refereeing decision and a crucial error by Welsh captain Aaron Ramsay, enabled Swansea City to secure back-to-back wins for the first time in the Premiership. Whilst Arsenal were always a threat in the final third of the field, the control which Swansea established in the first half and the menace that they themselves produced in goal, was enough to merit the full three points, a result which lifts the Swans into the top half of the table and, more significantly, nine points clear of the increasingly distant drop zone.
|15||West Bromwich Albion||21||-10||22|
|18||Queens Park Rangers||21||-17||17|
Whilst Swansea showed their determination to progress in the FA Cup last weekend by playing a strong side, they still rested four key players in Michel Michel Vorm, Steven Caulker, Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair. However, all four were back in the starting eleven for the visit of an Arsenal side that have been in such magnificent form that the crises stories circulating in the early part of the season are but a distant memory. Needing the points themselves to try and break into the Champions League places, Arsene Wenger resisted the temptation to give a starting place to Thierry Henry after the Frenchmen booked Arsenal’s place in the 4th Round of the FA Cup with the winner against Leeds on his return to the club.
However, it was a Russian and a Dutchman who were the first to stamp their mark on the game. Arshavin put Van Persie behind the home defence with one of his trademark through balls and the striker, who was the top Premier League scorer in 2011, made no mistake, beating Vorm at his near post from a tight angle.
This was the worst possible start for Swansea and immediately raised questions about whether they would be able to cope with Arsenal’s style of play. Whilst the Swans have been able to outpass the majority of teams in the Premier League, especially at home, their visitors on a cold January afternoon have been one of the best exponents of the intricate passing game for over a decade.
It would have been easy to write Swansea off at this point. However, signs of the attacking threat that City themselves possessed were manifest from the early stages. In the 10th minute, a cushioned header from the imperious Joe Allen released Sinclair, who was able to run half of the length of the pitch largely unopposed. With the situation crying out for a delicate through ball behind the defender, Sinclair played the ball straight through to Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.
Within five minutes though, Swansea were level after referee Michael Oliver awarded the home side a controversial penalty. As Dyer twisted and turned in the penalty area, Ramsay initially appeared to trip the winger. Closer scrutinisation, however, revealed that the Welshman had not actually made contact with Dyer. Sinclair stepped up to take the spot kick and made no mistake, confidently striking the ball past Szczesny into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
Whilst much has been made of the aesthetic beauty of their passing game, less is said about the incredible work rate within the team. The commitment to win the ball back starts from the very front, with Danny Graham frequently pressing space and preventing defenders from having time on the ball. The midfield also work tirelessly to ensure that the back four do not get exposed, one of main factors behind Swansea’s impressively tight defense this season.
Another noticeable trait among the team is their unwillingness to make tackles where they are unlikely to win the ball. Most Premiership players, when challenging for balls that the opponent is more likely to win, tend to commit themselves to the challenge and get themselves yellow carded or, worse still, lose out in the tackle and find themselves on the floor and out of position. Swansea’s midfielders, in contrast, noticeably do not make challenges in such situations, but rather ensure that they are in position to close down defensively when their opponents get the ball.
The home side, having got level, began to control the game as they passed the ball around so quickly and neatly that Arsenal could not get the ball. It was from a crisp Dyer pass that Swansea’s next chance arrived. Little had been made of a corner and Joe Allen was struggling to retain possession under immense pressure. The midfielder managed to get the ball back to Dyer, who fizzed a pass straight through the Arsenal defence to an unmarked Sinclair on the left side of the penalty area. With time and opportunity to pick out an onrushing forward, the winger somehow scooped the ball over everybody.
On the half hour mark, Swansea should have been behind. A tendency to over elaborate in defence left Ashley Williams totally out of position as the home side dangerously conceded possession inside their own half. Van Persie moved into the space Williams had departed and was found with acres of space. With a second Arsenal looking a certainty, the forward struck his shot to close to his fellow countryman in goal, Vorm coming out of his goal and making yet another fine save to add to the long list of merits he has accumulated already this season.
Chances were few and far between in the latter stages of the first half, but the game came to life again early in the second period as both sides created decent chances. Arsenal’s chance came when a cross from Miquel was allowed to go straight across the 6 yard line as van Persie vainly tried to reach it, whilst Swansea came close as Dyer cut inside his marker on the edge of the box and fired in a shot that went just wide of the right hand post.
Swansea were ahead soon afterwards though. Ramsay, who had already given away a penalty on his return to South Wales, however unfortunately, was caught in possession by Joe Allen, who then ran centrally at the Arsenal defence before releasing Dyer on the right hand side of the box. Despite a slightly clumsy first touch, the Barclay’s Man of the Match retained his composure to beat the keeper.
One of the reasons why sides such as Arsenal have been so successful is that when they behind, they start creating chances and frequently turn defeats into victories. This looked decidedly possible again at the Liberty Stadium when, having shown little evidence of getting back into the game, Djourou suddenly put Walcott behind the home defense, as the England midfielder gained an inside line on the otherwise impressive Swansea left back Neil Taylor. The line of the run gave Taylor no chance of recovering his ground and Walcott was able to lob the outcoming Vorm to put the Gunners level.
The away fans were still celebrating the goal when almost exactly the same happened at the other end of the field. This time it was Sigurdsson who placed a perfectly weighted ball behind Koscielny for the ever alert Danny Graham. From a tight angle, he hit the perfect shot across the keeper into the far corner. Despite a significant amount of late Arsenal pressure and one or two nervy moments, Graham’s goal was enough to give Swansea a victory which lifts them into 10th place in the Premiership with 26 points, just 14 short of the magic target of 40 that normally guarantees Premiership survival. On this evidence, it would appear to be only a matter of time until Swansea make it.
Congratulations to the 7% of voters who were brave enough to back a Swansea victory last week. You have been fully vindicated.