Arsene Wenger’s much-maligned zipper was a direct correlation to the team’s performances the past few weeks: a constant struggle, a lack of shape and pieces fitting together and frustration in the lack of consistency. However, today we ended up getting the result we deserved after several missed opportunities throughout the game. The line-up changes paid immediate dividends with Santi out wide, Coquelin as the defensive midfielder and Jack playing in the hole. Jack Wilshere’s capped off an inspiring performance with a goal in the 86th and rewarded a full 90-minute collective team effort from the squad.
Unlike past games this season, Arsenal started the game off with purpose and urgency. Despite Swansea’s immediate pressure, we quickly established the tempo and our passing game, thus forcing Swansea’s defense to turnover the ball on numerous occasions. However, some questionable defending eventually led to a Swansea scoring opportunity that was fortunately wide of the mark by Graham. Arsenal was able to win back possession of the ball many times, but our passing and decision making in the final third left much to be desired. Our defense would be tested once again as Sagna had a mental lapse and allowed Routledge to sneak in behind him. Luckily, Vermaelen covered him and neatly broke up Swansea’s offensive push.
The game continued with Jack driving our team forward and Diaby fluidly joining the play with him, but we still had issues penetrating Swansea’s well organized defense. Once again, Swansea took advantage of some poor marking by our back four and Bartley was able to turn a free header that beat everyone but the crossbar. A little later, our defense was again tested and Vermaelen and Mertesacker were caught too far apart, but Vermaelen once again saved the day with a last minute diving tackle. Despite all the defensive lapses, we dominated possession and were really pressuring Swansea when they had control of the ball. Our best scoring opportunities in the half came from an early Theo cross to Giroud, who really should have done more with the header; and from a corner, where the ball somehow landed on Vermaelen’s foot who was denied by a diving Vorm.
Arsenal began the second half rather sluggishly and failed to build further on a positive performance in the first half. Swansea looked more composed and settled into the game, until Diaby intercepted a pass and sent a quick long ball to a wide-open Theo who wasted his breakaway chip shot wide. From here on out, Arsenal were by far the better side and completely dominated possession and scoring opportunities. After numerous missed opportunities by Theo, Giroud, Wilshere, Santi and Vermaelen, we were finally able to get on the mark late in the game. Santi delivered a nice pass to Giroud who beautifully one-touched it to Jack, who put Swansea away for good.
Szczesny (8.0) – Did not concede any goals, was pretty much non-existent as Swansea barely threatened and took no risks on chances that were somewhat on goal. Gives our team plenty of confidence when he’s in goal.
Gibbs (8.5) – I thought Gibbs was one of our top players today. He was often isolated on the left hand side with Santi drifting centrally a lot and was still able to influence the game on his own out wide. Notably, he won the ball back in the 2nd half against three Swansea players near their corner flag and produced some great runs down the flank.
Mertesacker (7.0) – Questionable defensive coverage in the first half that almost led to a Bartley goal, in addition to another where Vermaelen fortunately saved both with a crucial diving block. Aside from those defensive lapses in the first half, Mertesacker was again a steadying presence for the back four and always makes the easy, simple passes.
Vermaelen (8.0) – Two crucial defensive plays where he denied Swansea clear chances at goal. He also found himself in the right places off corners on several occasions and while it would have been a delight to see him score that sitter at the end of the first half, he is a defender after all.
Sagna (8.0) – Recovered well from his early defensive lapse and actually stripped Routledge of the ball on the same play, before clearing the ball out. He pushed forward very effectively and linked up well with our offense. Produced a beautiful cross that Walcott slightly missed and unfortunately hit the post. Had the presence of mind to run all the way across the field to challenge Graham and cover for Gibbs in the second half, when he saw that Santi was central and Gibbs was on his own.
Coquelin (8.0) – He played a very aggressive game and always had a move forward mentality to his game. Produced a nice effort on goal in the first half and was fairly involved offensively. This performance should give him some necessary confidence going forward, but he did fall victim to several turnovers. However, I believe the turnovers are a result of his lack of playing time, opposed to a knock on his ability.
Diaby (8.5) – What a difference one game makes. His performance today was a stark contrast to the one vs. Man $hitty. He established his presence in the center of the park early on and won numerous headers, made several good runs into space and was making all the right passes (had one poor pass in the 2nd half and a poor first touch in the 1st but was pretty much perfect). His quick long pass to Theo suggested that he hadn’t missed a game all year. If he can continue this form and stay healthy, Arsenal will be a force to be reckoned with.
Wilshere (9.5) – There isn’t much more that can be said about this lad that hasn’t already been said. He almost played a perfect game and gave our offense the shape that TA desires, and was so influential on his driving runs and ability to penetrate Swansea’s well organized back four. His goal in the 86th minute relieved Gooners all over the world and I’m sure everyone will agree that he, of all people, deserved to score today. The only knock I can maybe place on him was a turnover of a Szczesny pass in the 1st half, and over-dribbling at times in the opponent’s box that led to lost scoring opportunities or deflections once he did decide to shoot (Chico’s block in the 2nd half). Aside from that, he was just fantastic and boy I’m relieved to have him back and performing at the level he currently is at.
Cazorla (8.5) – He was much more effective from the wing position and seems to thrive in a secondary creative role. Santi gives us a different look out wide and stretched the defense in the second half with his passing and fluid transitions with Jack. A lot of space opened up for him because of the attention Jack was commanding and Santi often drew away defenders himself, opening scoring opportunities for Giroud. His defensive contributions often go unnoticed, but his sneaky ability to win back the ball cleanly is a joy to watch. I would have liked Santi to be more deadly in the final third; though you can’t really fault him as he almost always makes the right decisions, even in tight spaces. Also, he drifted far too centrally, almost to the right side of the pitch at times, and he’ll have to be more disciplined in his positional play against a top team like Chelsea this weekend (Gibbs won’t be able to cover Ivanovic and Mata on his own).
Giroud (8.5) – He always gives a full effort every time he’s on the pitch and his ability to hold up play is something Arsenal has not been blessed with in past seasons. He had several good scoring chances on goal, but seemed to often shoot right at Vorm. However, he has a knack for getting himself into good positions and his one-touch pass that set up Wilshere was beautifully done. Also of note was that Giroud’s determination regularly caused Swansea defenders to rush passes which eventually led to turnovers further down the field.
Walcott (7.0) – My rating of Theo’s game might be harsh, but if you’re auditioning for the striker role, you better finish off the majority of chances that you’re given. Despite getting himself into good positions to score, he wasted three chances wide, shot another right at Graham’s chest and missed a flick on header that hit the post. Fortunately, all can be forgiven after Jack scored late, but I’ve come to expect better finishing from Walcott. The end product wasn’t there today, but he certainly worked hard in his defensive responsibilities to help Sagna on the right.
Overall, a great team performance and Swansea were fortunate to not have lost this game by a larger margin. If we can continue to maintain high pressure and dominate the midfield, we should definitely see more positive results like this one in the future. Today’s line-up was what many of us have been calling for and I’m excited to see Jack dictate play and excel in the advanced midfield position. Here’s calling for some consistency going forward and a healthy squad.
Written by: The Gooner