Yesterday’s blog called for Arsenal to be controlling in midfield and retain possession of the ball. We aren’t a team who can soak up pressure without it and defensively we just aren’t disciplined enough to give our opponents the ball for too much of the time.
So after the first fifteen minutes of the game, with Aaron Ramsey having misplaced his second pass out for a throw-in, I started to dread the outcome of the game against a Swansea team who were at rock bottom in terms of confidence.
We just couldn’t seem to get a grip of the game. It seemed like we weren’t in control and as an Arsenal fan, what we all know usually happens when we don’t have control of the ball, is that we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.
Thankfully though, Swansea are a team who do have real deficiencies all over the pitch. After 30 minutes yesterday they had had their spell of dominance, Cech had made a save or two and we’d been able to ride out the initial storm, which allowed us to assert more dominance of the ball and the game as a whole. The team Arsène sent out began to see a little bit more of it, we began stringing passes together and on the second proper move that we’d put together, Giroud swept in the ball after an Alexis cross and Özil headed down.
It probably wasn’t really what we deserved. We’d only had a few minutes of dominance compared to Swansea, but that’s why we’re towards the top of the league and they’re at the foot of it; because our team have the players who can take advantage. Which we did and then saw out the first half to go into the interval with a lead and an opportunity to improve on a ropey looking first half.
It’s that midfield, you see. It just doesn’t fill me with confidence. Xhaka and Ramsey looked the same in that first half as they did against Preston and Bournemouth. We just can’t seem to gel and it all feels a little haphazard and chaotic. Teams seem to be able to slice through that midfield too easily and had we faced a team of any kind of technical prowess, I think the narrative this morning would be quite different, so perhaps we should just be thankful that this fixture has fallen when it has. When we do eventually come up against a better team, a team with whom our midfielders will need to do just as much going backwards as they do going forwards, that’s when I fear the worst with Xhaka and Ramsey. Perhaps then we’ll have Coquelin back. Perhaps then I’ll realise that actually, Coquelin does have a place in the squad, depending on the opponent.
But in the second half Arsenal did what they’ve been doing in recent weeks: they realised that they were Arsenal and they realised that actually they’re all technically quite good. Özil started to influence the play more. Xhaka and Ramsey were doing more going forward than going backwards. We started to be more controlling of the football and Swansea began to be pinned back almost immediately from the start of the second half.
Iwobi, who I thought was one of the best players on the pitch, was getting the ball and driving it through the Swansea midfield. This allowed us to open them up a bit and where they had pressed us high up the pitch to some degree of success in the first half, this tactic didn’t work in the second, because we were breaking through the high press and after a few instances of that Swansea began to lose their shape and we were able to capitalise.
Those who only watch the goals of a game will tell you with an uneducated conviction that we were fortunate with two own goals by Swansea. But much like how a high press executely effectively will force opponents into making mistakes, our dominance in attack did the same to the Swans. We pushed them so deep as a defensive line that the second and third goals were always going to come. Giroud came off after 15 minutes of the second half and we reverted back to the style earlier in the season of more direct running at teams with the ball. The Ox, Iwobi and Alexis all showed movement and drive and we looked much better than we had in the first half. Swansea folded like a house of cards after Iwobi’s deflected finish and whilst I’ve read a few reports saying that 4-0 flattered Arsenal, I don’t really believe that at all, because I thought we could have had a lot more if we’d have taken a couple of the additional chances we had.
Scoring goals is great fun, but yesterday after the initial storm had been ridden and at 4-0, I found myself a little nervous whenever the ball went in to our half by Swansea, because I realised how much I wanted the team to keep a clean sheet. As important as scoring loads of goals is, getting the defensive side right was also important yesterday, because of the confidence it will hopefully breed in our back five. We’ve been conceding silly goals of late and so by avoiding that yesterday, the team will be feeling a lot happier across the whole XI this morning.
I also have to give some props to Gabriel. I thought he did ok yesterday, given he’s a makeshift fullback. He still offers less going forward than Bellerin and there were times yesterday when he probably should have overlapped, where his natural instinct was to hold, but he dealt with Swansea’s pressure in the first half ok. There were a couple of mistakes, but it’s easy to forgive when the side wins 4-0, so we’ll let him off the odd errant pass.
So that’s that for this weekend. A 4-0 away win and Burnley at home to come next weekend. In the league we have two home games and that is just as well because we need to start building some momentum and picking up points again, because everyone else is, including the Spuds and the concentrated evil that is Chelski. One of Liverpool and United – or both – will drop points today and whilst I’d love to say Everton might do us a favour at home to City, I think we all know that they’re terrible, so I’m expecting nothing less than three points. All of the teams at the top are winning and so it’s a relief that we did so comprehensively too.
We even got another 12 minutes of Welbz to enjoy. Although I do wish we’d see a little more of Lucas Perez. Oh well. Onwards we march.
Catch you tomorrow.