League leaders Arsenal travel to Wales for the 17:30 kick-off on Saturday to face Swansea, who have picked up their form dramatically of late, despite the midweek exit from the League Cup.
Swansea currently sit 9th after 5 games in the Premier League, level on points with four other teams (including Manchester United). They’ve had a mixed start to the season that’s come part and parcel with a tough starting run of fixtures. In the first four weeks they faced Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool, losing to the former two and drawing to Liverpool. However, they achieved comfortable victories against Crystal Palace and West Brom during this run, which has left them in a good position in the table and in some good form to boot. In truth, Swansea have looked dangerous all season, even in the games that they have lost.
Their difficult beginning to the year will continue now, as they play host to top of the league Arsenal, who are themselves on a very good run. Since a shock opening day 3 – 1 defeat to Aston Villa, Arsenal have gone on a four-game winning streak in the league, qualified for and won their first Champions League group stage match, signed Mesut Ozil and progressed through the latest round of the League Cup. Indeed, it seems that all the doom and gloom that surrounded the Emirates and Arsene Wenger at the start of the season was extremely premature, and it will certainly be hard for Swansea to overcome this side that are on an eight game winning streak in all competitions.
Swansea have claimed both of the two fastest goals this season: Michu vs Crystal Palace at 1:20 and Shelvey vs Liverpool at 1:27. However, in the 4 games played between the two sides last season, 7 out of the 9 goals came in the final 10 minutes of matches.
He may have arrived late, but Mesut Ozil has already assisted more goals than any other player in the Premier league (3). If he can help Arsenal to win this 5th league game in a row, then the team will have equalled their best run of form from last season, and also their best run of Premier League away wins ever (8).
Miguel Perez Cuesta, or should I say Michu, is the obvious candidate for Swansea’s key player. Everyone knows about his goal scoring, but, as I have written once already this season, he seems to have added a certain creative capacity to his game as well. He has created 12 goal scoring opportunities this season, 4 more than the next best Wayne Routledge, and has 1 assist to show for it (he had 2 assists over the whole of last season). Only Hazard, Walker, Johnson and Schurrle have created more than him so far. Moreover, this creative talent is not at the expense of his direct goal threat. He has scored two goals in the league, making him the club’s top scorer again, and has had the most open play shots (18). This may not give him a good conversion rate, but given that 54% of those shots were on target he has been unlucky not to score more. Indeed, when an individual has created the most chances, taken the most shots, had almost the best shooting accuracy and scored the most goals in the squad, he can be nothing but the team’s most important player.
Aaron Ramsey is turning into an excellent footballer and while it’s controversial as to who is Arsenal’s best, Ramsey is certainly the team’s in-form player. He is now an integral part to Arsenal’s passing, possession philosophy and has made more passes and accurate passes, 387 and 344, this season than anybody else in the squad. Furthermore, he has a pass success of 89% and only Flamini (90%) makes more accurate passes on average. This is his most significant impact on the game, as by keeping the ball moving he also keeps the opposition chasing. He has also been a big threat in front of goal of late, and of all the players in the Arsenal team to have taken more than 3 shots, he has the highest chance conversion rate in the team at 38%. With 63% of his 12 shots on target, he has become Arsenal’s second top goal scorer with 3 goals, second only to Giroud on 4. Indeed, Arsenal fan’s will hope that he can keep this up over the whole of the season.
Swansea have almost a full squad to pick from. Williams is still struggling with his ankle injury, but he is likely to start nonetheless. Similarly, Hernandez will be 50-50 going into this one.
Only Crystal Palace have more injuries than Arsenal. Key players Walcott and Cazorla are out until October, and Podolski and Rosicky will be back around the same time. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee injury will keep him on the sidelines till November, and return dates have not been set for Sanogo and Diaby.
Swansea are a strong side and at home I think they can be Arsenal’s match. This will be an exciting game, and there should be goals. I can’t pick between them though, and so I’m going for a score draw.
Draw: 2 – 2