Coming off a pair of matches where Arsenal started slow but managed to finish strong, the Gunners will be looking to give a more consistent performance and bring all three points back to North London. Swansea City, mired just off the bottom of the Premier League table on just 15 points, will have other ideas and will want to get a result for their new manager, Paul Clement, their third in a season which has barely passed the halfway juncture.
Last season, Arsenal won this fixture 3-nil but Swansea has been quite a bogey team for us in recent campaigns. In 2014-15 we lost both home and away to the Welsh team and we lost to them again at the Emirates this past March. In our most recent match, back in October, again on our home pitch, it took all we could muster to hold them off and finish with a 3-2 scoreline. That one looked comfortable early on but Swansea came back into it with a pair of goals and our nerves were well tested having to play the final 20 minutes with only 10 men after Granit Xhaka was shown a straight red card.
Swansea have a strong spine of players including former Gunner Lukas Fabianski in goal, Gylfi Siggurdson in creative midfield and the large figure of Fernando Llorente up top. Mo Barrow also looked very threatening on the right wing the last time we played. Center back Neil Taylor is their one big injury miss.
Arsenal have plenty of injury issues of our own but we should get a boost with the return of Mesut Ozil in midfield. Ball control and spacing were problems early on at both Bournemouth and Preston North End and Ozil’s return should help. He’ll likely slot back into his #10 role just behind the lone striker, but who will that player be? Olivier Giroud has gotten the call in recent matches with a small run of starts. Many observers, however, feel we’re stronger when Alexis Sanchez plays up top and that Giroud should be used off the bench. Danny Welbeck is also back in contention after his first minutes of the season at Preston. My hunch is that Giroud, who just this week had his contract extended, starts again with Alexis back on the left wing, while Welbeck, along with Lucas Perez, should be available from the bench if we’re chasing a result.
Giroud’s countryman–another player who has just re-upped his contract with the club, Laurent Koscielny, should also be restored to the line-up. Kos went off with a knock at Bournemouth and without him in the FA Cup match at Preston we looked very out of sorts at the rear. One player who has not recovered in time, however, is right back Hector Bellerin. With Mathieu Debuchy still injured and Carl Jenkinson said to be on his way to Crystal Palace, Gabriel Paulista will likely be Bellerin’s replacement, playing just to the outside of our other center back, Shkodran Mustafi.
Who will play ahead of Gabriel on the right? I’m guessing it will be Alex Iwobi who had a man of the match performance at Preston. In that one, he played in a more central role so it’s possible he could get another shot there or, perhaps, on the left. Alexis Sanchez, rested for the Cup match, could probably use more time off and a real Winter break. If manager Arsene Wenger is thinking along these lines it might mean that there’s a spot for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Much as Alexis has appeared a frustrated figure in that left wing role in his recent matches, I think our need for his skill and drive is too strong and he’ll have to play. Finally, in deep-lying midfield, where we’re missing Santi Cazorla (possibly out for the remainder of the season after another surgery), Mohamed Elneny (with the Egyptian team at the African Nations’ Cup) and Francis Coquelin (to a muscle injury), it almost has to be Xhaka and the player who came up through Swansea’s arch-rival’s ranks at Cardiff City: Aaron Ramsey.
All told, my predicted line-up looks like this:
Substitutes: Ospina, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Reine-Adelaide, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Perez, Welbeck
That’s just my best guess, of course. Who do you think Wenger will select and who would you like to see in the line-up?
Whoever he picks Arsenal cannot afford another slow and disjointed start and hope to pull off another come-from-behind result. Securing all three points with a strong performance would also help send a message early in the weekend’s matches before league leader Chelsea plays the Saturday evening match at defending champions Leicester City. Then, on Sunday, Manchester City have a fixture we lost–Everton away–while one or both of Liverpool and Manchester United will drop points when they play each other. As such, this is an opportunity we need to grab with both hands.
Go on then…