Category Archives: Swansea

After the Swansea setback, wrestling with despair…

What. the. hell. You know I’m down when I resort to that crappy one. word. sentence. approach. Of all the half-hearted, slapdash efforts, this was one we could ill-afford. So much for a response after the embarrassment at Stamford Bridge. We may have come away with a point; we may have scored two goals; we may have been victims of bad luck—but it’s hard to say we deserve the point we salvaged, not when we looked toothless and inept and even disinterested for long stretches save the 60 seconds that saw us score two goals to take the lead. I don’t even care how the dropped points slam shut the door, once and for all, on our hopes of a Prem title. That ship sailed (before slamming the door, presumably. Maybe it was the same gust of wind.) on Satruday. The dropped points are window-dressing. I’m worried that the season itself is unraveling. Worse, we’re the ones pulling the thread.

You can go elsewhere for a play-by-play, I’m sure. I don’t have the heart to subject myself to it at the moment. Maybe after I sleep (it’s 6:30pm as I write). For now, prepare yourself for some unmitigated, maudlin melodrama as I ponder the void into which I peer and, apparently, have poured a fair amount of my own heart and soul.

I took in stride the losses at Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. I told myself that there were special circumstances, namely that we were away from home, facing the wealthiest, oiliest, or hottest clubs in the Prem while fighting through injuries. I told myself that this squad is still finding itself, what with so many young players and injuries and all. I told myself that Arsène has a master plan; he’s taken the high-road of fiscal sanity, and it’s a long and winding road that will set the club for long-term success as the FFP rules kick in.

Not now.

Not in this moment, at least.

I’m not sure where I stand, nor am I sure what we stand for. We capitulated. We quit. We never even seemed eager to fight. Once Swansea went up 0-1, I expected us to coming roaring back, enraged that a team would dare to score on us in our supposed fortress. I demanded it, and the spittle on my laptop’s screen is the evidence of my demands. Instead, after Bony’s goal, all I saw were Gunners milling about, wondering what had happened and who was responsible. There was no response, as if no one was quite sure what was supposed to happen next. Very little, apparently. Nothing, in fact, as we continued to pass and pass and pass with very little purpose in mind, as if we were the ones winning the match, forgetting that the gap between us and Swansea—33 points, 11 spots lower than us—matters not a whit in foretelling the outcome. A win would have leveled us on points with Liverpool, who have a game in hand. Now, instead of trying to keep up with them and close the gap on Chelsea or Man City, we have to turn our eyes to the rearview to see that Everton, with their own game in hand, are a mere six points behind us. Behind them lurk the Spuds, seven points back but, thank god, no game in hand.

But I digress. I follow the Arsenal as I always have, for more than three decades, and this pathetic performance, this draw when we really had to win, not just to stay in the hunt in the Prem but to restore some semblance of confidence among the fan, not to mention the players, this pathetic performance hurts. It feels worse than losing to Blackburn. Worse than losing to Bradford or Birmingham. Why? Those losses at least involved silverware, right? So why does this tepid, comparatively inconsequential draw hurt me more? After all, it’s not like our chances of winning the Prem before the match were 50-50. I think the odds-makers had us at 4% or something, so just north of a snowball’s chance in hell anyway.

Why, then?

I had started to believe, at long last, that we had turned a corner. Even the horrific losses couldn’t deter me. However, in this draw, it felt like there was no fight-back, no heart, no…no… nothing. They were just playing, playing as if we’re comfortably and firmly ensconced mid-table, nothing to gain, nothing to lose, just playing.  We were lucky to escape with a draw, as we barely managed to scrape out a lead. That we couldn’t hold it for 20 minutes against a club that hadn’t won since early February, against a club that had scored only 14 goals in 15 away-matches all season, that we gave it away on the flukiest of own-goals in injury-time, these are pointless, trivial details. We should never have gone down to an early lead. We should never have had to claw our way back. This was the kind of fixture that a team with legitimate designs on silverware puts away early and ruthlessly—just as has been done to us on a number of occasions.

I’ve defended Arsène on financial grounds, on philosophical ones, heck, even on moral grounds, portraying him as a pure paladin fighting the amoral and the avaricious, defending football if not civilization itself with his commitment to fiscal sanity, attractive football, and youth-development. I’m wavering. In my current state of despair, I’m not sure how much longer I can hold to this. I’m turning and turning in the widening gyre as things fall apart. If they continue, we won’t survive Wigan, nevermind win the FA Cup itself.

Why, then, am I here? Am I deluding myself, wasting my time, putting so much of my potential happiness into a group of men an ocean away? I need something to shake me out of this. To be honest, I feel like shutting down, ignoring everything else—including the FA Cup—and starting fresh next season. I’m not sure I can bear up under the potential agony of seeing the season unravel. I hear that crochet offers a soothing, restorative effect…

You know, though? I gotta snap out of this. We’ve been decimated by injuries, and what’s remarkable is not that we’ve started to fade down the stretch but that we’ve refused to go down, that we’ve stayed in it this long. Hell, we staggered after two other uppercuts before righting ourselves by winning. We did it after the 6-3 loss. We did it again after the 5-1 loss. Who’s to say we can’t do it after the 6-0 loss? Lose horrifically, draw, then win. It may not look pretty, but fighting back can be a messy business. It wasn’t so long ago that we were hailing this squad for its spirit, and despite my early reactions, I’m not ready to count them out yet.

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Look away if you get queasy: Arsenal 2-2 Swansea highlights

Sixty seconds of glorious footballing saw goals from Podolski (assist from Gibbs) and Giroud (assist from Podolski), but this just wasn’t enough to see off the Swans, who claimed a point when a Flamini own-goal in the last minute of regulation evened the score. Four minutes of stoppage-time didn’t leave enough for the Gunners to find a last-gasp goal, and the dropped points all but end any last hopes of clawing back to the top of the Prem. So it goes. It’s the third time we’ve followed a drubbing with a draw; here’s hoping that the pattern holds for the second match after, which has been a win each time.

Whether it was the lingering effects of the Chelsea match, or perhaps a jaded look past Swansea to Man City on Saturday or further ahead to the FA Cup semifinal, we just didn’t have it today. Pity.

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Sorry, Swansea, but your timing couldn’t be worse.

Well, the dust has settled from thecarnage of Saturday’s Stampede at Stamford Bridge. Thank god that there’s another match waiting, if only to get us Gooners off of each other’s case as we bicker and squabble over whose fault it was, who’s a real fan, and just how much longer we’ll endure/enjoy Arsène as our manager. The loss to Chelsea may have split certain fissures wider apart than ever, but it also laid to rest one dream: barring major collapses from Chelsea and Man City, we won’t be winning the Prem this year. We can and must, however, solidify our position in the top four with a win on Tuesday. For some, that won’t be enough despite it being an improvement on last year’s skin-of-our-teeth fourth-place finish. Still, all is not yet lost. 

After all, there’s still quite a lot to play for. Instead of backing into the top four, we can fight for a 3rd or even 2nd place finish, qualifying for the Champions League outright instead of the play-off round. A win on Tuesday over Swansea would restore some confidence going forward, a quality that seems in woefully short supply, at least as gauged by fellow Gooners. It’s therefore timely that we face Swansea, a match rescheduled to make room for our FA Cup quarterfinal match against Everton, the one that we won 4-1 to advance to the semifinal. Sadly, winning the FA Cup may not quite satisfy a fair number of Gooners, even if it’s the self-same trophy we last won almost ten years ago. Should we win it, some of the more-finicky fans will sniff and suggest, “well, yes, but we beat Hull (or Sheffield United)” as if this diminishes the run we’ve gone on to get there, beating Spuds, Liverpool, Coventry, and Everton (and, it’s hoped, cup-holders Wigan). There’s just no pleasing some.

However, we have a Prem fixture in front of us. Had we faced Swansea a few weeks ago, we might nothave this match as a distraction and potential salve from the undressing at Stamford Bridge. I don’t mean to suggest that the match will offer us quick and easy relief—though Swansea’s own struggles pervade far deeper, with no wins in their last eight matches dating back to 8 February, and they now sit precariously above the drop-zone, currently four points clear of Sunderland, but Sunderland hold two games in hand. With this in mind, the Swans look like one of those teams with desperation on their minds. Given our current fragile state, it would be better for us if they were a number of points higher or lower, so as to reassure them one way or another of their position for next year.

Speaking before Tuesday’s clash, Arsène did not mince words or seek to displace blame, saying, “it all went wrong and I take full responsibility. It is my fault that we failed completely today because we did not turn up.” However, he was quick to remind us all of the importance of Tuesday, adding, “what is important now is that we show we have the capacity to respond, despite that disappointment, on Tuesday night.” A win against Swansea will do little to change the dynamics of the Prem; our chances of winning are all but gone. However, it’s vital that we find a way to regain confidence going forward, if only to build momentum for the final run-in. Without underestimating them, the Swans look to have come along at an ideal time. Gone is the attacking style of last season, and gone too is Michael Laudrup, but many of the other names remain the same.
More of a concern than what Swansea brings to the pitch will be what we bring. Will our players be nervous, shell-shocked, humiliated? Or will they be determined, focused, ferocious? I have to think that everyone involved will be eager to seize every opportunity to put behind them the various failures that led to Saturday’s 6-0 scoreline, whether these were strategic, tactical, positional, or otherwise. There’s a lot of pride on the line, not to mention a fair amount still to play for, and I fancy a 3-0 win to the Arsenal, with goals from Gnabry, Giroud, and Rosický. A dark-hose to sneak one in? Thomas Vermaelen, playing for the injured Laurent Koscielny.

Wherever the goals come from, I believe the lads will answer the call.

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Arsenal 2-1 Swansea: Ramsey. Again. Yawn.

This is getting a bit ridiculous, to be honest. Ramsey has scored yet again (eight goals on fourteen total shots) added an assist, and again led the team in tackles (7). He turned in a rather pedestrian 80% pass accuracy, so I’m sure that the Piers Morgans of the world will point out that they don’t understand what people see in him. Everyone’s entitled to having their opinions, of course, but not every opinion is entitled to being

had. However, tempting as it is to gush yet again over Ramsey’s form, let’s not neglect the man of the hour, Serge Gnabry, player of 271 minutes of competitive football in the last seven days, and, more importantly, scorer of his first Prem League goal.

In a gutsy performance that follows closely on the heels of an uncertain one against West Brom, highlighted by his PK being saved, the 18-year old German turned in a stellar all-around performance. In fact, were it not for some poor finishing from some more-seasoned teammates (who shall remain nameless), we might have seen Gnabry turn in an assist or two as well, such was the quality of his play today. It’s of course too early to anoint him with anything, but he has announced his intentions and should become something special in due time. Without stoking the fire any further, at 18 years, 76 days old, he’s now the second-youngest player to score a Prem goal for Arsenal, behind Cesc Fabregas, who scored at 17 years, 113 days. The goal was smartly taken after some clever passing around the edge of Swansea’s box, with Gnabry slotting home coolly to the far post, out of reach of the sprawling Vorm. Just as impressive as the shot itself is Gnabry’s jump back to both stay onside and to square up for the shot. You can see a gif here, thanks to

On a day that saw Spurs draw with Chelsea, Man U lose at home to West Brom, and Man City lose away to Aston Villa, it was all the more vital that we take all three points. We now sit alone in first place, two points above Spurs, four points clear of Chelsea, and five above Man City. In a situation that is bound to change, Man U languish in 12th place behind newly promoted Cardiff and Hull City. While there are still questions for us to answer, especially regarding squad depth and rotation, we offer a rosy picture of stability and intent compared to our rivals. Additionally, we should see the issue of squad depth actually improve with the impending returns to fitness of Santi Cazorla and Tomáš Rosický next week, and of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, both scheduled to return on or around 19 October. We’re on a run of form that has seen us win nine games in a row, including all six away-matches on the season. It’s therefore a bit astonishing to think that, in spite of our apparent thinness and injuries, we’re looking to get even stronger.

It’s still early days, of course, and a lot can happen between now and 11 May. We can and should celebrate this win and our position the table without getting presumptuous about what these mean for the long haul. As hard as it is to resist unbridled optimism, let’s remember that we’ve played just six of 38 matches, face a tricky league-cup visit from Chelsea, and are only one match into the Champions League group phase. As vital as today’s win was, then, it was similarly important to see the growth of another young player who can slot in and contribute. Gnabry may be only eighteen, but he looks to be the real deal. The squad as a whole, with its mix of youth and experience, is starting to look much the same, real enough to be touted as contenders for the Prem title or other silverware.

Heady days, indeed, but headaches could still come up. October sees us host Napoli to start and Dortmund to finish, matches that could prove our quality or expose our flaws. Rather than looking too far ahead, though, let’s savor another solid victory for what it is: three points, three points that none of our rivals can match on this day. Yes, Liverpool visits Sunderland on Sunday and could climb to second with a win, but they, like everyone else, are trying to keep up with us. That’s a nice change of pace, and one I hope we can sustain over the long run.

That’s all for now. You can check my player-ratings here. If you have a minute before you go, I hope you’ll consider casting a vote for Woolwich 1886 in the Football Blogging Awards’ Best New Blog category. You can click here to vote through twitter or here to receive an email ballot. Whether you vote or not, thank you for your visit, and I invite you to weigh in in the comments section below. Thanks!

Against Swansea, look to Giroud. He’s easy on the eyes and on the prowl…

Don’t let Swansea’s uneven start to the season or its crashing out of the league cup against Championship side Birmingham fool you—for as strong a start as we’re on, it is one after all that is enabled in part by whom we’ve faced. Fulham, Sunderland, and Stoke can hang tough enough to claim a point or even nick all three on their day, but Swansea has drawn with in-form Liverpool,  lost narrowly at White Hart Lane, and come away with a nifty away-win against Valencia. They’ve now won three of their last five, and one can easily chalk up the loss to Birmingham to squad selection, as new signing Jonjo Shelvey was the only regular to have played significant minutes. For as much as we fretted the squad selection for our own third-round match against West Brom, we at least came through. One wonders, then, if Laudrup underestimated Birmingham or overestimated his own squad. In either case, both clubs will go on fielding relatively rested, full-strength squads. For Swansea, there are injury doubts for Ashley Williams and Pablo Hernandez, and we’ll go in without Podolski, Cazorla, Ox, Diaby, Sanogo, or Walcott. However, Arteta and Vermaelen will be available, but having played on Wednesday, will probably ride the bench.

At the risk of picking at scabs before they’ve fully healed, Carl Jenkinson played the full match against West Brom, which implies that he might be rested on Saturday, good news considering how he was undressed against Swansea in that infamous 2-0 loss last December. Mertesacker and Vermaelen also played the full match, which poses some interesting questions. Should we see Koscielny and Sagna as center-backs with Jenkinson on the right, or should we see some combination of Koscielny-Mertesacker-Vermaelen in the center with Sagna on the right? I might opt for the latter option, starting with Kos and Per flanked by Gibbs and Sagna. In front of them, we should see Ramsey and Flamini. The leadership and command that Flamini has established already has been a minor revelation of sorts, and Ramsey, well, what more can be said about the form he’s currently in? In front of those two, we should see Wilshere, Özil, and Gnabry. Before you slap your forehead over Gnabry, ruing his performance against West Brom, remember a few factors: one, he played 73 minutes against Stoke the previous Saturday; two, the squad was a mish-mash of Academy and first-teamers that lacked continuity; and three, his spot-kick was actually decent although blocked. Of course, his fitness could be a concern, playing his third match in seven days, but we can hope that youth is an advantage in that regard. With Özil adjusting nicely to life in the Prem, Gnabry, Giroud, and Wilshere should see plenty of chances, especially if Swansea’s defense is a bit unsettled by the potential absence of Williams, not to mention the dispiriting effect of having lost mid-week to abruptly end Swansea’s title-defense.

As we consider positions and players, having Gnabry and Wilshere in the attacking midfield suggests that Giroud’s role in the striker-position will be vital. Özil’s first Prem assist did come, after all, with Giroud on the other end, and with Giroud’s emerging penchant for going near-post to score, look to Özil to find Giroud a number of times in or around the box. After a strong start to the season saw Giroud score five goals in six matches, he’s been quiet in his last two appearances but may again find the scoring touch as he roams the penalty area, from which all eleven of our Prem goals have come. Özil has already created more clear-cut chances (10) than any other player in the Prem, and he should find plenty of space to add to that number against Swansea, who play an attacking style similar to ours albeit with less technical ability. With questions about their defense, the Özil-Giroud axis could prove to be the difference in this match.

For as much as we may have underestimated Swansea last December, we’ve since won twice and drawn once against them and look ready to improve on that account on Saturday. I’m going out on a limb to predict two goals for Giroud, one of them assisted by Giroud, in yet another 3-1 win for Arsenal. Make your own prediction in the comments section below—thanks!