The Premier League returns this weekend and Arsenal face a tricky trip to Swansea to face a side that has had a lot of success against them in recent years. The Welsh side have won three of the last five fixtures between the two clubs and they desperately need a similar result this weekend as they will want to climb up the table sooner rather than later. Paul Clement has won one of his two matches in charge of the Swans and it is a good opportunity for him to test himself against one of the best managers in Premier League history. It used to be a game between two sides that look to dominate possession, but Swansea have become more direct this season.
Swansea managed to get a priceless away win against Crystal Palace in their last outing in the Premier League and that has significantly improved their position in the table. Although they are 19th, they are only one point from safety and will be hoping that the managerial change provides them with the momentum required to stay in the league. Paul Clement may be inexperienced as a number one, but he has an impressive coaching CV and will be doubly motivated to succeed after his failure at Derby County last season.
This match is equally as important for Arsenal as they have been poor in recent weeks and doubts are beginning to emerge about the likelihood of them finishing in the top four. Although it seems ridiculous considering Arsene Wenger’s incredible record of ensuring the side finishes in the top four, they have looked the worst of the top six sides over the festive period and they need to start building momentum once more. They will see themselves as favourites for this weekend’s match, but if they deliver a similar performance to the ones at Bournemouth and Preston, then Swansea have a real chance of taking something from the game.
In the earlier meeting between the two sides this season, there were five goals and it was Arsenal that took the three points with a 3-2 win. A Theo Walcott brace and Mesut Ozil secured the win for the Gunners, despite Swansea goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Borja Baston. Meanwhile, in the corresponding fixture from last season, Arsenal were triumphant once again, this time by a 3-0 scoreline. Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Joel Campbell scored the goals for the visitors on that occasion.
- Swansea City have the worst defensive record in the league, conceding 45 from their 20 matches. That is more than two per match on average.
- Arsenal have only kept two clean sheets in their last ten Premier League matches.
The Swansea midfielder hasn’t been taking the headlines this season, but he remains the side’s most influential player. He has played in several positions for the Swans this season and that has disrupted his rhythm at times. That said, he has still contributed with five goals and six assists. He is one of the most classy operators in the Premier League and it is impressive how he continues to do well, despite the struggles of his team. The Icelandic midfielder will not be short of offers if Swansea don’t manage to secure survival this season, but he won’t be thinking about that at this stage. He has been very successful at Swansea and will want to spearhead their survival push over the coming months. Although Swansea are likely to make several additions this month, Sigurdsson will be their most important player between now and the end of the season. He has had success against Arsenal before and will be one of the few Swansea players that is feared among the Arsenal ranks.
The Chilean has been the star of Arsenal’s season so far, but recent speculation about his future has overshadowed what is happening on the pitch. There is a real concern that Sanchez is going to refuse to sign a new deal at Arsenal, which would make his departure during the summer inevitable. Arsene Wenger has spoken about keeping Sanchez for the remaining 18-months of his deal regardless, but Arsenal can’t afford to let an asset like him leave on a free transfer. They will want to recoup their investment, which makes a summer departure likely if he doesn’t agree to a new contract. On the pitch, Sanchez could at least depart Arsenal on good terms and fire them to a top four finish. This season, Sanchez has 13 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League, an incredible return considering we are only in January. That said, he has only scored two goals in his last seven matches across all competitions. He will be keen to get back to scoring ways and given Swansea have conceded the most goals in the league, this weekend provides a great opportunity for him to do so.
Neil Taylor and Modou Barrow are both major doubts for this weekend’s home match against Arsenal. Jefferson Montero will miss out, while Luciano Narsingh could be in line to make his debut after completing his move from PSV Eindhoven.
Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott face late fitness tests ahead of the trip to South Wales. Mesut Ozil is likely to start after missing the last few matches. Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla will all miss out.
There is likely to be goals in this fixture as neither have shown themselves to be reliable at keeping clean sheets. Arsenal are the overwhelming favourites, but they need to start performing much better than they have been in recent weeks if they are to go on and finish in the top four. A month ago, we were talking about a possible title challenge, but the Gunners have once again had a collapse and that has left supporters doubting their top four chances. It is imperative that they get back to winning ways this weekend. I think they will, but I don’t think it will be as convincing as it should be over a side in 19th position. Swansea won their last match and they know they have a long way to go to achieve survival. However, it won’t be matches such as these that determine their fate. If they deliver a good performance, that should be good enough for the Swansea fans.