Arsenal’s Ugly Ducklings Are Not Blossoming Into Swans.
Swansea City 3 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 van Persie (5)
1 – 1 Sinclair (16 pen)
2 – 1 Dyer (59)
2 – 2 Walcott (69)
3 – 2 Graham (70)
I feel that the title of today’s post ought have the word, “Yet” appended. Maybe not, I just don’t know. If ever a match encapsulated a season, this was it. Injury-riven, sloppy goals conceded, moments of poetry and officiating that will remain inexplicable. And at the end of it, a weekend that promised much delivered nothing of the sort. It is an altogether familiar feeling.
And none of this should detract from the efforts of Swansea. They worked hard and on reflection, deserved something from the game which they duly got. Theirs was a more consistent performance throughout the 90 minutes.
The midfield was robbed of the passing grace of Mikel Arteta, allowing Yossi Benayoun a rare start presumably because Tomas Rosicky had not fully recovered from his illness of late last week. The ability of the Czech to bond midfield and attack would have reaped more reward, I feel, that the Israeli’s individualism.
Complaining about Andrey Arshavin ought to be an Olympic sport, the Arsenal contingent might surely be able to bring forth a British Gold medal. That had to stop within five minutes of the start, the Russian released Robin van Persie on the right. There was no inevitability of the finish as the angle became more slight; that mattered not as the Dutchman beat compatriot Michel Worm to open the scoring. The finish contrasted with his chance on the half hour where a better opening landed firmly in Worm’s midrift.
That ought to allowed Arsenal to assume some control of the game. Such was the line-up, that never really emerged. Swansea’s confidence gradually returned, helped ably by Michael Oliver’s officiating. The first of his contentious decisions came when Ramsey was adjudged to have fouled in the area, a jaw-droppingly poor decision of such outrageous standards that it is utterly baffling. It is nothing unusual for referee’s to get it wrong, this is no anti-Arsenal conspiracy. As the years pass I wonder if our minds play tricks on us when we believe standards are dropping; were they ever that good to begin with? The only difference now is that the televisual evidence is more readily available. And the media are more willing to pass an instant judgement using technology denied to the officials.
Neither side settled with Arsenal almost stealing the lead immediately after the equaliser with Ramsey firing into the area before Worm grasped the ball gratefully. Swansea rescucitated; pressure on the visitors grew as the half progressed and Koscielny emphasised how much his performances have grown this season whilst Mertesacker veered uneasily between international class and nervous wreck. For Ignasi Miquel it was as tough an introduction as he might have thought of, the pace of Swansea on his flank was too much at times to bear. It does not make him a bad player, just one who is not quite ready for the first team which raises issues I will deal with in a moment. On the right, Djourou put in a tremendous amount of effort working not just the flank but also into the centre as Swansea sought to exploit spaces with their pace.
Dyer exploited his chances well. Touted for England squads of the future, he found Szczesny his equal until fifteen minutes after the break when having shot narrowly wide early in the second half, Dyer drilled home from just outside of the area following the soft dispossessing of Ramsey. Having seen Walcott waste an earlier opportunity, it might have crossed the manager’s mind to relieve the pressure on the winger by substituting him when Henry made his introduction. As it was Arshavin made way. It was the correct call as Theo made the most of Djourou’s long pass to score past Worm.
The relief was shortlived as Koscielny and Szczesny pondered – scarred by Wembley perchance – and Graham sidefooted home from close range. Back came Arsenal with Mertesacker skewing wide unbelievably. At least that is what Thierry Henry believed anyway. It was his last telling contribution as he made way for Oxlade-Chamberlain who created an opening for Henry but header cleared the bar. The closing minutes brought a flurry of chances with Rosicky and Koscielny unable to hit the target and salvage a point.
After the match Arsène delivered as withering an assessment that he might publicly venture,
I thought there were some odd turning points, like when we came back to 2-2 and made a defensive mistake straight away. It looked similar to Fulham to me, the lack of appreciation for the ball. Our defensive performance was not good enough and that’s why we lost the game.
Whilst a makeshift defence offers up some explanantions, it is also damning. We are sixteen days into the transfer window and if anything, the injury situation is worse than at the turn of the year. Yet – that word again – nothing has been done. Publicly Arsène is vacillating between a loan left back and not; a permanent signing is not on the agenda. The nuances of the game are such that cat and mouse negotiations are best conducted behind closed doors, problems are around every corner and not necessarily just down to money between the clubs. We saw that even loan deals are protracted when Henry was unveiled a week after the club confirmed that the deal was ready to be completed. That raises uncomfortable questions about the higher echelons as much as it does about the problems within the squad.
Some offer the view that no signing is all down to the manager; it is as naive as believing that no targets are identified. He is not absolved either, there is an amalgam in all transfers. I hope that recent Premier League results focus thoughts on the remainder of the season and underline the dangers in relying upon defenders who have suffered the slings and arrows of injury fate. I have no doubt that Gibbs and Sagna are going to be available soon but will they avoid niggles as they return? I think in the Frenchman’s case, it is likely he will be relatively free of such trials. Gibbs? Impossible to quantify, it genuinely is.
Whatever the case, seasons turn on matches as much as matches turn on incidents. Let us hope that this is the moment is a catalyst.
Just a reminder that a new post is over at Arsenal On This Day, an altogether more cheerful affair.