Arsenal will have to fight until the end of the season for a Champions League spot after conceding a late goal to draw 2-2 with Swansea in the Premier League. While the humiliating 6-0 loss to Chelsea ended the Gunners’ title bid, the disappointing draw on Tuesday gave them a cold dose of realism by reminding them that Everton still had a shot at the lucrative European competition. The Toffees trail Arsenal by six points but they have a game in hand and will host the Gunners in 10 days.
Wenger made two changes from the side that was thrashed at Stamford Bridge by replacing Podolski and the injured Koscielny with Flamini and Vermaelen. Arsenal had more defensive stability in midfield but you could feel that the team was playing with a bit of fear. The Gunners clearly wanted to avoid turnovers as they made a lot of safe passes in the opening minutes. The fear was not completely gone even when they started dominating possession. Giroud was quite a few times the only Gunner inside the Everton box when Gibbs, Sagna and Rosicky made good crosses, which means that our attacking midfielders did not want to be pulled out of position in the event of a counterattack.
Learning the hard way
Oxlade-Chamberlain started the match despite his disastrous performance against Chelsea. However, the manager moved him to the right wing and played Rosicky in midfield to limit the damage from potential turnovers. Chambo didn’t really learn from his mistakes since he made several long passes that went nowhere in the first half. His turnover rate has been an issue in the last couple of games. His defensive contribution was also poor on Tuesday. He failed to close Taylor down in the 11th minute, and the Swansea left back had plenty of time to made a cross for Bony, who beat Vermaelen to the ball to head into the bottom corner.
This season has been a rollercoaster for Chambo, with outstanding performances, especially in the FA Cup, but also mediocre ones. It’s not easy for a youngster to channel that kind of inconsistency. That can often lead him to doubt himself and play with the handbrake on. Chambo’s best contribution came in the fourth minute when he pounced on a poor clearance from the Everton defense to fire a half-volley that Worm parried. I think Chambo’s best asset is his ability to run at defenders and provide the penetration we’ve been missing since injuries to Walcott and Ramsey. He managed to outpace a Swan in the 36th but fired wide from a tight angle.
What kind of center forward do we need?
The ghost from the Stamford Bridge massacre briefly appeared in the 23rd. Swansea capitalized on a corner poorly taken by Cazorla to hit us on the fast break. The situation did not look good with three Swans facing just two Gunners. But Flamini’s smart positional play forced Michu to cut the ball back to Shelvey, whose effort was blocked.
Arsenal created very little in the first half. Rosicky played a one-two with Cazorla in the 18th but had his pass for Giroud intercepted. Two minutes before halftime, Rosicky found Cazorla on the edge of the box and the Spaniard created a bit of space to fire a low strike that Worm saved.
The Gunners ended up scoring two goals but you kind of wonder whether they should tweak their way of playing to accommodate the midfielders. Twice Rosicky slipped a through ball to Giroud, who killed the chances by running in a different direction. Obviously the team is tired and our midfielders are trying to send the center forward clean through on goal whereas Giroud keeps playing back to goal. Ramsey and Wilshere are those who made runs off the Frenchman but they are currently injured. Cazorla and Rosicky aren’t box-to-box players like the two Brits.
Giroud had some decent service on Tuesday with very good crosses from Sagna in the 39th and from Rosicky in the 63rd. But each time Giroud lacked flair and mobility to connect with the ball. Williams got the better of Giroud for most of the match as the Frenchman lost possession inside the Everton box in the 33rd and 66th when he was in a good position to shoot.
Wenger sent on Podolski for Chambo in the 57th to provide Giroud more support inside the area. That move paid off in the 73rd when Gibbs outpaced Rangel to cut the ball back to Podolski, who volleyed home from close range. The Gunners took the lead in the following minute. Podolski outpaced Rangel on the left flank to make a low cross for Giroud. Williams got ahead of the Frenchman but failed to intercept the ball and Giroud flicked home for a 2-1 lead.
Podolski’s impact was tremendous on Tuesday. He’s having a disappointing season with just four goals in the Premier League. But the club definitely needs him to step up for the last games to secure a Champions League spot and lift the FA Cup. One play in the 60th helps explain why the manager has often left Podolski on the bench this season. Gibbs told Podolski to track De Guzman, but the German ignored the request. As a result of Podolski’s poor defensive contribution, De Guzman made a perfect cross for Michu. Arsenal was very fortunate to see Michu head over the bar.
Punished for being too passive
Wenger replaced Rosicky with Kallstrom in the 79th in an attempt to protect his team’s lead. That did not prevent Bony from outjumping Vermaelen in the 85th to meet a cross from Hernandez. However, the header from the Swansea striker lacked power to beat Szczesny.
The Gunners threw away the victory in the last minute of regulation time when Britton played a one-two with Rangel. Mertesacker awkwardly cleared the ball which bounced off Szczesny and Flamini to roll into the net. At first, it looks like bad luck but the truth is that the Gunners were simply too passive. Swansea should never have been able to reach our box so easily. Vermaelen could have beaten Rangel to the ball and Flamini should have intercepted Rangel’s pass.
Vermaelen was involved in both goals scored by the Swans. The Belgian defender is losing too many duels in the Premier League. That’s the main reason why he’s behind Koscielny in the pecking order. It’s not a good sign before the match against Manchester City on Saturday. The Gunners must probably be gutted to drop two points against a weak Swansea side, especially after making a big effort to come back. They’ll need to show a lot of mental toughness and team spirit to survive the end of their title bid in the Premier League.
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