If Arsenal fans were wary with Swansea as their first opponents after the international break, they would have been more than a bit justified. The Welsh club had not lost at Emirates in last three outings, winning two and drawing one. In fact, it had been more than three years, since Arsenal had won a league match against Swansea and that was played at the Liberty Stadium. Fresh from a manager change and first Premier League team to be managed by an American manager – Bob Bradley, who replaced Francesco Guidolin a few days back, Swansea were set to trouble the Gunners at home.
But now the Gunner fans can breathe easy as their team has completed a slightly hard-fought but well deserved victory over the Swans. A brace within seven minutes (26th and 33rd minute) by Theo Walcott showed that he had woken up from his slumberous international form and gave the Gunners an upper hand. The first came at the end of a superb move started by Walcott himself as he latched on to a Jordy Amat mistake, induced by a brilliant header from Bellerin near the Swansea goal mouth. His and Arsenal’s second goal came from another shoddy piece of defending as Swansea were unable to clear a corner in the 32nd minute, leading to a simple scoring opportunity for Walcott. The Swansea response was quick as Sigurdsson latched on to a 37th minute mistake by Granit Xhaka and slammed an excellent left footed shot in the top left corner of the Arsenal goal from just outside the box.
After the half-time break, Arsenal again extended their lead to two as in the 56th minute Alexis Sanchez’s brilliant chipped ball was slammed in to the top of the net by the birthday boy Mesuit Ozil. This goal prompted a formation change from Swansea as in the 59th minute Leon Britton was replaced with Borja Baston, who started leading the attack, while Sigurdsson fell back behind him. This substitution seemed to work immediately as Modou Barrow was able to run in to Arsenal’s box from the right and cut back for Baston to swipe it past Petr Cech. Things got nervy after this, as Xhaka in an attempt to stop Barrow from making another run on the right cynically fouled him and to everyone’s surprise saw a straight red card for the challenge. It was definitely worthy of a yellow but not sure why Jonathan Moss decided to show him a red.
After this, Swansea tried hard to pile on pressure especially through Barrow, but were unsuccessful. Barrow shot a free header at Cech’s feet, then his cut back to Sigurdsson was sent high over the bar by the Icelander and towards the end Fer’s header went straight to Cech. In between these chances for Swansea, Arsenal managed two counter attacks but Walcott shot one into the right post and the other high and wide – not being able to complete his hat trick.
This was a game where on the face of it, Swansea out-possessed (51% vs Gunners’ 49%) and out-passed Arsenal, which is saying a lot. But on a closer look at the numbers, we find that Xhaka’s red card had a huge impact on Swansea’s ability to dominate in the Arsenal third and put in more shots on their goal. However, Arsenal held their nerve and were able to see out the 24 minutes of play after the sending off.
This match left both the opponents pretty symmetrically on both ends of the league table, with Arsenal second on goal difference and Swansea 2nd from bottom with just 4 points from 8 games. Swansea have a chance of improving their position against relatively easier opposition of Watford (home) and Stoke City (away) in the next two game weeks before meeting Manchester United at home. Given their performance over the last three games (4 goals against Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal), their fans can believe that they will make it out of the drop zone. Arsenal has an even easier run of fixtures coming up with Middlesbrough at home and Sunderland away in the league and Ludogorets and Reading in the Champions League and League Cup respectively. But they cannot afford too many slip ups as the competition for the top four positions in the league is only going to get closer in future. Hopefully they will be able to hold their nerve as they did for the last 24 minutes on Saturday.