A tricky away one for us today I think. Swansea have been absolutely gash for most of the season, but they always love playing against us and with ‘New Manager Syndrome’ sure to be percolating through their squad today, we have to be mindful that the players will probably be giving a little bit extra to impress the new guy.
That’s twice this season we’ve had to face ‘the new guy’ for Swansea. Whilst Paul Clement has already had one game in the shape of Hull away in the FA Cup, our visit to the Liberty is his first official game in the Premier League as manager. Last time we played them it was Bob Bradley and we had to do a lot of holding on for the remainder of a game that should have been dead and buried. To be fair that was due to the incompetence of Jon Moss and his sending off of Xhaka that never was in a million years, but we don’t want to be handing Swansea any kind of impetus by doing anything silly today.
That also means we don’t want to be starting the game slow and full of lethargy. It’s something Arsène is mindful of, mentioning it in the press conference yesterday, but saying and actually doing are two different things. I read the always excellent Tim Stillman column yesterday and I’m inclined to believe in what he talks about (and also mentions in the Arsenal Vision podcast this week) when he describes how bizarre we are at the moment in terms of our structural set up. In effect, we don’t really seem to have one and are relying on a response to our own ineptitude, which then galvanises us in to action. Ignoring the West Brom and Palace games over Christmas, we’ve had two games where we’ve gone ahead and not known how to close out a game (Everton and Man City), as well as two games in which falling behind has forced a response from the team (Bournemouth and Preston). We need to arrest this approach asap because it’s not conducive to my own health, let alone our faint hopes of an outside shot at the title.
Today needs to be that start of that and so first and foremost I’d like to see us walk out of Swansea with a clean sheet. They’ve been somewhat of a rarity in the last couple of months, only coming over Christmas, but the back line needs to be better. That means improved performances from Mustafi and Monreal, with Koscielny coming back in to the heart of the defence to ensure we have a little more stability about us. Quite who plays on the right hand side is anyone’s guess, but given his experience I’d expect it to be Gabriel. Jenkinson is so out of favour he might as well be on Mars and Debuchy is injured, so the Brazilian will be asked to adopt that position is all I can assume. Although I’d never fully feel confident about second-guessing the manager. We could even see Maitland-ankles there, or even Holding, because he’s played at right back before.
Midfield is what it is: the only two fit players available in Xhaka and Ramsey and we need to see an infinitely better performance from the both of them than what we saw last weekend in he first half. To do that, we need firstly for them to be able to do the basics right, because both players couldn’t string together more than two consecutive passes to an Arsenal player against Preston. Just do the simple stuff guys. And Rambo, please, not 50 yard diagonals. You simply don’t have the ability to execute them properly.
In front of them will see a return to the pitch for Mesut Özil and what that will give us should be a little more composure and the ability to get balls in behind the lines. But it will also give us a willing runner in the final third. But it’s his eye for a pass that means that I’d like to see Lucas Perez today. In the last couple of games he’s played he’s showed how he’s willing to run in beyond Giroud and assuming the Big Frenchman will be starting today given his form, I think our right hand side needs that type of runner. Alexis will be back on the left so someone like Lucas should definitely start. I’m not sure whether he definitely will, because Iwobi and The Ox have been preferred all season, but I just think it’s time we unleashed him especially as he seems to be developing a bit of an understanding with Giroud.
Swansea need a reaction from their players today and in the coming weeks, because if they don’t start picking up points now then their season is doomed, so I’m expecting this to be quite a fully bloodied encounter. Their big players are undoubtedly Siggurdson and Llorente, so set pieces and balls from out wide in to our box have to be countered. They’ve always been a ball-playing team and you’d expect that to continue today, but with a new manager in charge it’s hard to grasp whether desperate times will call for desperate measures and we’ll see a more direct approach from them. If that is the case, it might mean we adopt more of a siege mentality and counter approach today, so I’d like to see better control and possession of the ball from our players. That control is predominantly in the midfield and so if Xhaka-Ramsey is going to be a ‘thing’, then it needs to start working. Like, now.
Right, I’m off for the day. See you soon you sexy bitches.