The FourFourTwo Preview: Swansea vs Arsenal
Whatever happens, it will be the referee’s fault.
- Everton 0-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Swansea (LC)
- Swansea 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Swansea (Prem)
- Swansea 2-2 Newcastle (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht (CL)
- Arsenal 3-0 Burnley (Prem)
- S’land 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 2-2 Hull (Prem)
Those of you expecting a pass-a-thon at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday might want to re-adjust your expectations.
Swansea have modified their approach under Garry Monk. To add some defensive steel and organisation to their play, they have sacrificed elements of their free-flowing football.
During their goalless draw with Everton last week, the Swans had just 33.16% of the ball – their lowest ever in a Premier League game. This manifested itself in 300 attempted passes – a figure Roberto Martinez’s side almost doubled. The previous week newly-promoted Leicester saw 51% of the ball in South Wales, despite losing 2-0.
This isn’t an anomaly. Last season Swansea averaged 57% possession. This term is only 10 games old, but that figure has dropped to 50%. Monk’s combatants have also displayed greater aggression under his stewardship – amassing 25 yellow cards and three reds this season. That’s as many dismissals as they suffered during the 2013/14 Premier League campaign.
This new-look Swansea side like to get stuck in – something Sunday’s opponents Arsenal have never enjoyed since the Invincibles side was dismantled. Their defensive fragility and mental strength were called into question again this week after they surrendered a 3-0 lead against Anderlecht in the Champions League.
The Gunners looked to be cruising into the knockout stage, before Anthony Vanden Borre struck twice to set-up nervy finish at the Emirates.
Inevitably, Arsenal collapsed and Aleksandar Mitrovic equalised in the last minute. Arsene Wenger was furious with his team’s “poor defensive performance” and accused his players of underestimating Anderlecht.
With a nine-point gap between themselves and league leaders Chelsea, Arsenal can’t afford to let this set-back rock them. They need to bounce back quickly and win on the road against sixth placed Swansea – who trail the Gunners by two points – will restore confidence.
Wenger will be looking to his star performer – Alexis Sanchez – to galvanise the team after Tuesday’s slip. The Chilean has netted five goals in his last three games. Swansea’s centre-back pairing of captain Ashley Williams and new boy Federico Fernandez better pack their fishing net and tranquilizer gun.
Jack Wilshere is expected to return for the Gunners on Sunday after missing games against Burnley and Anderlecht with a virus. He’ll replace Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta, who is out with a hamstring strain. Swansea defenders Dwight Tiendalli and Jordi Amat are targeting a return to the first-team squad.
Key battle: Wilfried Bony vs Nacho Monreal
Poor old Monreal. He’s not a centre-back, but with Laurent Koscielny sidelined and everyone else looking away, whistling with ignorance, he’s been shoved into the middle of the Arsenal rearguard. Monk will have identified this weakness and instruct his main man Bony to target the Spaniard. The Ivorian striker – who is negotiating a new contract – has netted four times in 10 Premier League appearances this season.
With 100% pass completion rate against Anderlecht, you can’t fault Monreal’s contribution to Arsenal’s passing game, but with no clerances made in the box and a penalty given away, his lack of experience defending balls into the box is evident. If the Swans can get the ball into Bony he will bully the Spaniard and punish any sloppy defending – just ask Leicester. During their visit to the Liberty the Ivorian struck twice.
He finished a slick passing move in the first half and punished Liam Moore’s inexperience after the interval to secure the points. With his strength, slick link-up play and eye for goal, Bony has the firepower to blast holes in the Arsenal’s defence.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 2-2 Swans (PL, Mar 14)
- Swans 1-2 Arsenal (PL, Sep 13)
- Swans 0-2 Arsenal (PL, Mar 13)
- Arsenal 1-0 Swans (FAC, Jan 13)
- Swans 2-2 Arsenal (FAC, Jan 13)
These two love a moan and both had a pop at the officials after their most recent results. But the referee wasn’t the only one to receive criticism from Wenger. The Frenchman blasted his players, especially the defence, after their shambolic midweek performance. He has demanded they all take responsibility, rather than leave it to Sanchez. “It's the first time that we've given a three-goal lead away [since Sanchez been here],” he said. “We need everybody to step up. You want everybody to perform at their best. I believe defensively as a performance across the pitch, we were very poor.”
Monk was unhappy with referee Kevin Friend after he failed to award a penalty when Everton defender Antolin Alcaraz handled in the box. But he was full of praise for his players after they held out for a point with 10 men at Goodison Park – singling out their new defensive strength as a major factor.
“I’ve played in many Swansea teams and we’ve always played attractive football, but something I felt was, not that we are soft, but that we did not do enough work defensively on our shape and the way we defended together as a team,” he said.
“It’s something I brought in this season because there are going to be periods when we can’t play free-flowing football. We are going to have to do the other side of it. Had we not done that work we might have lost this game, but we deserved the point in the end.”
Facts and figures
- Danny Welbeck has scored 3 goals in 3 Premier League appearances against Swansea.
- Arsenal have conceded a league high 64% of goals in the first half of Premier League games this season.
- Arsenal have scored exactly 2 goals in each of their last 5 away trips to Swansea in all competitions. That has been enough for 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Arsenal are shaken. Swansea are up for a fight. Entertaining 2-2 draw.