A Win Is A Win. Unless You Are Arsenal.
Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea
1 – 0 Arshavin (40)
When is a Premier League win not a Premier League win? When Arsenal are the recipients of the three points. Unless it is achieved with sparkling passing, stunning finishing and a bragging swagger, there is no point. At least that is what you would believe if you took on board all of the back pages and some of the Arsenal support. Only an Arsenal win can lead to more questions than an 8 – 2 defeat.
Unrealistic expectations beforehand have led to criticism post-match. Swansea could – and perhaps should – have equalised at the end but to highlight that is to ignore chances that Arsenal spurned. If you seek the negatives, you will find them in any performance. And let’s be honest, it is much more financially rewarding copy if they are Arsenal negatives.
Arsenal recorded their first three points of the season, the squad emerging from the gloom of August into September’s autumnal sunshine. Andrey Arshavin capitalised on Lady Luck’s benevolent smile, bringing his international form to the Prmier League playground. There is an argument that her grin in the direction of North London is long overdue this season.
Three weeks ago, the absentees would have provided a formidable barrier. Post transfer window, the squad is improved with experience that minimises the impact. The directness of Gervinho’s running may be similar to Walcott’s, the inconsistency of the final pass the same but somehow the Ivorian carries more threat. For all of the positivity of his words beforehand, the young England international seemed beset by doubts. Confidence is in short supply, not just defensively.
And Walcott was not the only sub-par performer. Gibbs lack of match practice was evident, as much as unfamiliarity with some of his colleagues. Frimpong meanwhile, seemed inhibited by his red card against Liverpool. The balance between the enthusiasm of his previous performance and the conservatism of yesterday will come with experience. Equally, Aaron Ramsey was subdued. The impact of Old Trafford resting heavily on his shoulders. It was not that he played badly, simply well within himself.
And that, collectively, was the problem with the performance. There is much more to come but right now, it was good enough.
Mikel Arteta shone of the new boys, Per Mertesacker was solid enough but caught out a couple of times by the pace of the Premier League. This morning saw the criticism of him stoop to baffling levels, his abilities dismissed because no big clubs came in for him. The Spaniard’s passing provided “technical security” according to the manager and looks a promising basis for a partnership with Wilshere’s guile. That was something that Yossi Benayoun brought when he came on for Arshavin. Wenger will not have been disappointed in any of the debutants performances.
Winning will relieve these burdens and when that becomes the habit, the swagger will return. As it is, the spirit cannot be doubted. Off the back of such a heavy defeat, confidence was inevitably low. That will return – as the manager noted, more slowly than it was lost.
Ramsey spurned an early chance, Walcott unfortunate that a Welsh defender had the pace of the ball measured even if Worm did not. It was not all one way traffic, Swansea counter-attacked and exploited vulnerabilities. When they breached the Arsenal back four, Szczesny was there, a formidable barrier, equally reliant on good technique and wayward finishing. The Pole reportedly was outstanding against Germany in the week, carrying on his good form early on, his cockiness in executing a Cruyff turn counterbalanced by the flap at the end which nearly led to an equaliser.
Graham’s early effort spurred a reaction, van Persie setting up Frimpong. Arshavin took aim and blazed wide before Worm had a moment which, had he been an Arsenal goalkeeper, would have ended his career. His quick throw hit the defender’s heels, Arshavin coolly taking advantage from the tightest of angles.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first. Arsenal probed, Swansea countered, neither side convincing in front of goal. Sinclair clipped the top of the bar for the visitors as the hosts retreated, content to defend their lead. van Persie striking the post was probably the closest to an Arsenal goal, although Marouane Chamakh brought a good save from Worm near the end. Despite failing to score, the Moroccan’s cameo was encouraging, a sign perhaps that form is returning.
That and Gibbs failure to finish at the end meant that the margin of victory remained one goal. And, as my youngest son said this morning, “At least they won“. And that is all that matters.