It’s match day! Hoorah! Proper football is finally back! Yippee!
As you can tell, I’m rather excited that Arsenal are back in action today, after what has felt like the longest interlull in a long, long, time. It’s Swansea at home for a three o’clock kick off and whilst I can’t be there to see it due to family circumstances, I’ll be cheering the lads on from afar, hoping that the Swans don’t do us over on our own turf again. It’s weird, because Swansea have a better record than us at the Emirates in the league, having won three times and drawn once. In contrast, we’ve got just one solitary win to our name, which was a 1-0 victory when they were a newly promoted side.
I’ve been to nearly all of those games, and the tone has been one of Arsenal dominating possession, but Swansea remaining composed and hitting us on the counter. I don’t know what it is about the Welsh team, but they’ve frequently brought out the worst in Arsenal at The Emirates, so there’s no doubt that we can all feel a little wary about our opponents. Despite the fact they are in a poor run of form and currently sit fourth from bottom on four points. We’ve seen how they can defend for their lives against us and last season was an example of a team in poor form that can still spring a surprise. Swansea named a borderline reserve team last season, with recently departed boss Guidolin thinking that other games were more winnable, yet he came up against a self-harming Arsenal side and we just have to hope the international break hasn’t set our momentum back.
In terms of playing style, you’d expect Swansea to be similar to the previous incarnations under former managers, but with new boss Bob Bradley in charge, it’s difficult to predict how they’ll set up. I am in no doubt that there will be an element of new manager, new motivation, but whether or not that manifests itself as Swansea looking to have a go at Arsenal, I doubt it. They will most likely look to hit us on the counter, which is where the passing range of Sigurdsson will come in important, as well as the pace of Routledge and Barrow, who played in the last game against Liverpool. Last season it was a ball over the top that cut the Arsenal defence in two for Routledge to score, so we need to make sure we don’t see the same kind of build up today, which means a better defensive display from Koscielny and Mustafi than Big Per and I think it was Gabriel last season. The good news is that both of our centre backs look like they’ve started to gel together and we’ve kept a clean sheet in a few games. So I’m hopeful that we can continue the good form and remain despite at the back. Then, it’s just over to our attacking options to unlock the Swansea defence, which we’ve struggled to do in recent seasons at home.
But I’m expectant today. I expect performances from all of our players. I expect to see a better Theo Walcott, an improved Alex Iwobi and a Mesut Özil who has been rested a little, having come off at halftime in midweek for Germany. I want this Arsenal side to lay down a marker. To make a statement to the world saying “we know this team is a bogey team of ours, but this season we’re sweeping them aside, because we have our eyes on the league”. That’s my hope for today. Whether it happens or not obviously depends on a number of factors, but first off is the motivation of the team. I’ve seen too many games against Swansea when our dominance of possession has been laboured and irrelevant. We need to be incisive, move the ball quickly like we did against Chelski and Basel, then pull apart the Swansea team so we can create opportunities for the strikers.
I do wonder what physical state Alexis is in and whether he’ll be starting today. He’s been back in training, but he will have done a lot of travelling and having played on Wednesday night, so I wonder if the temptation might be to play Lucas Perez. It didn’t really work against Southampton, but that was his first game at the club and so it’s almost inevitable that it would be a bit disjointed for him. But the purpose of having a big squad is not to over rely on one or two players. This is an opportunity to give Alexis a rest and if it hasn’t worked just after halftime, then he can be brought on as an impact sub. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, however.
The other question mark will be in midfield. Xhaka and Cazorla have played the last couple of games together, but Coquelin is back, so I wonder if Arsène might put him back in. He’s been keen to stress the importance he places on the partnerships in midfield, so I have a sneaky suspicion we might see the Coq again, although I think a game like this is one in which the passing incision of Xhaka will be useful to unlock a Swansea defence.
I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to watch the game today, but I’ll be keeping tabs via the mobile, so let’s hope for three points, a few goals and the ability to actually watch Match of the Day today.
Catch y’all tomorrow.