An oft-repeated football maxim is that you don’t change a winning team. So it wasn’t at all surprising when the Arsenal manager decided to field the same side that played in the last Premier League game. Especially seeing as that team was so effective against an Everton team that has proved difficult to beat in the recent past.
So just like in the last game, the Arsenal team dominated in the early stages of the match against Swansea, even if they were not creating as many chances. Still it looked like it would be a long day for the Swansea players, who were pretty much content to sit back and absorb all the pressure and wait for counterattacking opportunities.
But still there was this niggling feeling, particularly when simple passes were going astray and Arsenal were struggling to create clear cut opportunities that it just might not be Arsenal’s day. I daresay, it looked like a Fabianski masterclass was on the cards.
So just like in the last match, it wasn’t that much of a surprise for those who have been following Arsenal for a few years when the opposition took the lead out of virtually nothing. The ball fell to Laurent Koscielny, who had a bad touch and then slipped. Leroy Fer then slipped in Sam Clucas who had escaped the attention of Hector Bellerin. Somehow, because the angle was tight and it was freaking Sam Clucas going up against Petr Cech, it didn’t look really look like the Welsh team was going to score. But score they did; somehow, Clucas found space between Cech’s legs to put Swansea 1-0 up.
The Swansea chances didn’t stop there though; even as the away team sat even further back, every time they broke forward, they seemed likely to score. The Arsenal team on the other hand looked shaken by that goal and struggled to get a handle on the game. Even the more senior players looked jittery and surrendered possession easily. When the Arsenal captain, Per Mertesacker dithered in possession at the end of the first half and was caught by Andre Ayew, the Ghanaian winger looked sure to score. Luckily for the Arsenal, it wasn’t to be, he tried to be cute with his finish and Cech batted the ball away.
A reaction was needed from the home team at the start of the second half and it was duly delivered. It was immediately clear that the players were under instructions from the Arsenal manager to attack Swansea down their right and the duo of Saed Kolasinac and Alexis Sanchez bombed down that wing. It was also noticeable how Granit Xhaka constantly threw diagonal passes down that wing to find Kolasinac who was constantly unmarked.
Both goals would arrive from that part of the pitch. The first, the equaliser came about after Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette both had their shots in the box blocked. The ball broke free to the arriving Kolasinac, who did the sensible thing and kept the ball low and hard and past Fabianski.
The second came about after one of Xhaka’s cross field diagonals found Kolasinac free again and he produced a simple cut back into the box for Aaron Ramsey to slide very gently past the goalkeeper. 2-1.
The Arsenal manager has deployed the three at the back formation, almost exclusively, since the tail end of last season and he seems very wedded to it, as shown by the changes he made when Kolasinac went off injured. Rather than bring in an attacking midfielder, he elected to bring in Rop Holding, shifting Nacho Monreal to wingback and retaining the same formation.
Arsenal has conceded the first goal in the last three games, against teams they really shouldn’t be conceding against. If the currently deployed formation is supposed to shore up the defence, it s clearly not working. And it is not just the goals, Arsenal has continued to defend the way only Arsenal can.
What the newish formation has actually done on the other hand is stifle our creativity, making it harder for us to create chances and pushing our defence higher up and leaving much larger spaces behind. Arsenal play Man City and Sp*rs next in the league, the earlier this is sorted out, the better for the Gunners.
It was not a vintage Arsenal performance but three points was all that was required and it was duly delivered.
Best Player on the Pitch: Saed Kolasinac
He might have struggled the past few games but Kolasinac was very good today. He scored and made another but he was also very impressive in general play. Time and time again, he found space on the Arsenal left and Swansea couldn’t deal with him. He might have been a free transfer but he is already looking like a worthy acquisition