Facing the Jacks without Jack? Who really gives a Jack?!
It turns out, the almost-miracle in and against Munich, may well be the much needed lift for our squad to finish in the coveted top-four domestically by the end of the season. Amidst the downplaying by some critics of our victory at the Allianz arena (due to Bayern’s suspensions and being mentally unfocused after their first-leg victory), the significance of that victory may go beyond the criticism of coming short in Europe yet again; it represents a huge boost for Arsenal in confidence, and the cornerstone for momentum to the rest of the season.
The problem for most of this season has been following up a great performance with another. There has been a lack of consistency game-to-game and even within a game; the 2-0 victory against Bayern saw the potential for Arsenal to be a fortress defensively like we were for the first few games this season, while playing as a collective, cohesive unit offensively.
Arsenal was able to follow up its 2-0 victory in the CL with another inspiring 2-0 victory against a Swansea side that beat us by the same score-line earlier this year. Arsene made some changes to the line-up that played mid-week in Germany, by starting Ox, Diaby and Monreal in place of Rosicky, Ramsey and Gibbs. We started off the game with some very nice one-touch passing, while Swansea countered with some beautiful passing of its own. It was evident that this would be a wide-open game with both teams taking turn passing and attacking.
Swansea dominated the first 20 minutes of play by creating the majority of chances and holding on to the ball very well – they ‘out-Arsenaled’ Arsenal in the process. Their first half was highlighted by golden opportunities both missed by Michu. Our defence did well in neutralizing the early threats; and after the initial 20 minutes of dominance by Swansea, Arsenal took over the game.
We had our fair chances to score in the first half, none better than Ox’s two shots off the crossbar, and Santi’s dipping effort from 25 yards out that Vorm saved calmly. However, both sides were unable to convert, and the half ended in a stalemate with both sides outplaying the other for half of the first 45 minutes.
The second half was a much different story to the first half of the game; as Arsenal have been able to own second halves, with only 12 goals conceded – better than any other squad in the Premier League. We started the second half as we ended the first half: in complete control on both possession and scoring chances. Santi drove our team forward on numerous occasions and Diaby threatened with a couple of nice runs, but we still lacked either the final ball or the finish to put us ahead. It once again appeared that we would be victims to our lack of creativity, as we were very stationary on the edge of the opponent’s box, contemplating a way to break through their defence.
However, in the 71st minute of the game, Arsene made two key substitutions that changed the flow and outcome of the game – Gervinho and Ramsey came into the match for Ox and Diaby. At first, I was a little puzzled by the substitutions since two-thirds of our most threatening attacking options today were now off the field, but I had faith that Gervinho’s trickery and runs would add some flair and potentially reinvigorate our stale offensive approach.
Immediately after the substitutions, Santi drove us forward once again and played a ball to Giroud, whose poor touch was saved by a diving second effort to get the ball to Monreal in the opponent’s box. Cool and composed as ever, Monreal slid the ball into the bottom corner of the goal to give the Mighty Arsenal a much-deserved one-goal lead. From there, the game was history as we continued to own possession and still attacked when given the opportunity. We moved up and down the pitch like a well-oiled machine, paying special attention to the defensive side of the game before eventually scoring in the 91st minute. Gervinho capped off a counter-attack in the 91st minute by calmly slotting an insurance goal for us from a Ramsey pass.
Fabianski (7.5) – He was never really tested, but came up with saves when needed. His aggressive goalkeeping in running out to meet balls played back to him by defenders displayed his confidence and comfort level in goal. I also noticed that most of his kicks in the air often find Arsenal players in open space, which is another benefit Fab brings to the table. Two clean sheets in a row, nothing extraordinary today, but he provides us with stability in goal going forward.
The Back Four: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny (7.5) Monreal (8.0) – I grouped our back four together because I thought they all played a very solid game and have finally provided us with some defensive consistency and reliability. Jenkinson’s pass directly to Michu in the first half was frightening, but fortunately we were not punished for his mistake. Aside from that, Jenkinson was lively running up and down the flank and is blossoming into a fantastic and dependable RB. Mertesacker held the line well and played very deep to receive passes in typical fashion; he was steady as ever. Koscielny was aggressive and assertive in his defending again, and has formed a solid partnership with the BFG in the center of the park. Monreal’s timely goal set him apart from the rest of the back four, but all four are worthy of recognition for playing a solid defensive game with little to no errors.
Arteta (6.5) – I was a little disappointed with Arteta today, as he misplaced some passes (one to Koscielny in our own half) and was careless with his tackling (conceded a free kick just outside our own 18-yard box and picked up a yellow), which almost cost us. His lack of pace has been frequently exposed lately against clubs with fast players like Robben, Ribeiry, Routledge, Dyer, Pablo etc. However, he is still the engine of this team and Arsenal are more disciplined and organized when he wears the armband and is in the line-up.
Diaby (7.0) – Considering it was Diaby’s first game back after another injury lay-off, I was relatively impressed. There were flashes of his old-self coming back, as he galloped down field with ease and stripped the ball off Swansea players on numerous occasions. It was clear that he was rusty and not fully in form yet, as he had a heavy touch on a couple occasions and could not finish from the scoring opportunities he created for himself.
Cazorla (8.5) – Santi was the driver for our team and constantly pushed us forward throughout the whole match. Much like Diaby, Santi is once again showing signs of becoming the player he was at the start of the year and is exerting his influence on the game. He was my MoTM and has looked brilliant filling in for Jack in the hole. As mentioned earlier, it was Santi’s run with the ball that created the first goal; and his pass up field to Giroud that started the counter-attack for our second goal.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.5) – Ox’s first start in a while and like Diaby, it was clear that he had some rust to shake off. He was our most dangerous player in the first half, hitting the crossbar twice, combining well with Santi and making some nice runs into the opponent’s 18-yard box. However, he also had a couple heavy touches and made some errant passes in the final third. I’d like to see Ox get some more minutes during the rest of the season, as he provides a different option to our wings than Theo, Poldi, Santi and Gervinho.
Giroud (6.5) – Giroud was underwhelming yet again today. Aside from the nice second effort to assist on Monreal’s goal, he was largely not involved and never helped to threaten Swansea’s defense. As always, his work rate and attention to defensive duties is admirable, but we’ll eventually need goals from our striker if we’re to qualify for the Champions League next year.
Walcott (6.0) – There were times when I questioned if Theo was even on the pitch. There has been a disturbing pattern of Theo drifting centrally recently, looking for the breakaway pass and to be the man who scores timely goals, whilst leaving Jenkinson defending and attacking on his own on the right flank. While the belief in his own ability is great, the delivery has not been focused enough, and he needs to let the game come to him, instead of forcing the issue. I’m confident he’ll eventually find his scoring boots again.
Gervinho, Ramsey (7.0) and Gibbs (Incomplete) – In their cameo appearances, Gervinho and Ramsey made a substantial impact on the game. Their ratings are only a 7.0 because they only played approximately 20 minutes of the match. Gervinho immediately threatened Swansea with a nice run down the left, but fell victim to his own poor pass in the final third. Still, our offense looked livelier once he was on the pitch and his goal in the 91st minute sealed our victory. Ramsey’s work rate running up and down the field was necessary as our team was starting to fade before he came on. Despite his pass being played behind Gervinho on the goal, he still played it into the right area and picked up a crucial assist. Gibbs came onto the game in the 84th minute to defend the lead and never really had the opportunity to make his mark.
On a day where the Arsenal is victorious, it’s hard to point out too many flaws in our game, and I believe my player ratings more or less reflect this. Going forward, the striker partnership of Theo and Giroud will need to improve, as we’ll need their goals in the coming weeks to secure a Champions League spot.
Hopefully, Arsenal can maintain this level of intensity and consistency and finally form an identity of being a defensive fortress, while winning games in typical, beautiful Arsenal fashion.
Written By: Highbury Harmony