Arsenal suffered a third straight defeat in all competitions on Wednesday by blowing the lead in a 2-1 loss to Swansea in the Premier League. The Gunners missed a great opportunity to close the gap on Leicester to three points as Swansea fielded an under-strength team with six changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Tottenham last weekend. There are still 10 games left, but on current form the Gunners are unlikely to overtake Leicester and Tottenham in the title race. On Jan. 2, Arsenal had a two-point lead over Leicester after edging Newcastle 1-0. In a two-month span, the Foxes have racked up eight more points than the Gunners to top the league.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com
Swansea’s press exposed again Arsenal’s dysfunctional passing game. That has been a recurrent theme since Cazorla’s injury. And the lack of rotation in midfield has also contributed to our growing inability to set a high tempo. Yet, it’s not the reason why we lost on Wednesday. The Gunners had enough chances to kill the game in the first half but their poor finishing allowed Swansea to reach halftime with the score tied at 1-1.
Wenger made three changes to the side that lost 3-2 at Manchester United last weekend with Mertesacker, Campbell and Giroud replacing Koscielny, Welbeck and Walcott in the starting lineup. Walcott performed poorly at Old Trafford so it was logical to bench him. The manager did not have the choice with Koscielny and Welbeck though. Koscielny picked up a calf injury while Wenger did not want to overwork Welbeck.
Sanchez hitting the woodwork twice
Sanchez was our best player last season but he has been struggling with confidence since his return from a hamstring injury. That may sound crazy but he still hasn’t scored in a league game this year. When you are a forward trying to rediscover your magic, the most obvious option is to drop back and touch the ball a bit more. That’s what Sanchez did for the opening goal in the 15th minute. The Chile forward found Campbell inside the area with a clipped pass that was slightly overhit. Campbell still managed to beat Fabianski with a sliding volley into the far corner. Four minutes later, Sanchez had less luck with a through ball for Giroud that rolled into Fabianski’s arms.
Sanchez has developed a good understanding with Ozil at the club. Ozil got the better of Amat while chasing a long ball from Sanchez in the 52nd but the Germany playmaker completely missed his volley. Sanchez could have notched a hat trick against Swansea but ended up hitting the woodwork twice. In the 11th, Ozil redirected a cross from Campbell toward Sanchez, who produced an air shot. Sanchez chested down the rebound and cut inside to hit the far post with a curling shot. Fabianski was lucky to see the ball bounce back into his arms. The Swansea goalkeeper was again stranded in the 68th when Sanchez struck the bar with a curling free kick.
Giroud missing a sitter from 10 yards
You can never fault Sanchez for a lack of effort. The stats say that he really worked his socks off with 2 tackles and 60% of duels won as well as 3 shot assists. It’s just the goals that are missing with none of his 4 shots on target. I thought he should have done much better with two chances in the second half. Sanchez chested down a corner from Ozil in the 57th to fire a low strike wide from 15 yards. Two minutes later, he made a diagonal run to meet a free kick from Ozil but failed to make contact with the ball. The slightest touch would have been enough to beat Fabianski. A goal would definitely have boosted Sanchez’s confidence. On the bright side, his form is slowly improving.
Giroud is another forward struggling with his finishing. He failed to convert a chance in the 41st that would have given Arsenal a 2-1 lead. Mertesacker cushioned Ramsey’s cross into the path of an unmarked Giroud, whose volley rattled the bar from 10 yards. That’s the kind of chance you can’t afford to miss in the middle of a title race. Giroud also connected with an Ozil corner in the 76th but his downward header lacked power to trouble Fabianski. His lack of confidence was pretty obvious when Bellerin squared the ball back in the seventh minute. Giroud’s first-time effort was so tame that Williams made a routine clearance.
Wenger’s substitutions in the second half were quite baffling. With the score tied at 1-1, the manager pulled Campbell out in the 64th to send Welbeck on. The crowd disapproved with loud boos. Campbell had been a thorn in Swansea’s side, wreaking havoc with his movement and dribbling skills. In his post-match press conference, Wenger said that Campbell started tiring. Fair enough then.
The more surprising decision was Sanchez’s replacement by Walcott in the 75th, just a minute after Williams had put Swansea ahead. A more logical choice would have been to shift to a 4-2-4 formation and send Walcott on for Ramsey or Coquelin. Maybe the manager felt it wasn’t meant to be for Sanchez and wanted to keep him fresh for the Tottenham game.
Walcott headed an Ozil corner straight at Fabianski in the 88th while Welbeck missed the target in stoppage time with a header from a Walcott cross. The Gunners could have leveled in the 80th if Monreal had spotted an unmarked Welbeck to his left but the Spanish fullback pounced on Giroud’s pass for an awkward shot that sailed over the bar.
As the old saying goes, if you can’t win a game, then make sure not to lose it. It’s not the first time this season that our finishing has let us down. The recent draws with Southampton and Stoke were frustrating results, but at least we split the points. We couldn’t even manage to salvage a draw against Swansea because of some abject defending.
Conceding goals from turnovers
Mertesacker and Paulista did not cover themselves in glory. When Cech punted the ball in the 32nd, Amat pulled back Ozil to flick the ball toward Cork. The Swansea midfielder held off Ramsey to slip a through ball to Routledge, who beat Cech with a low strike. There was a foul on Ozil in the build-up but the rule is to play to the whistle. The Gunners switched off for a split second, allowing Routledge to beat the offside trap. Mertesacker failed to spot Routledge’s run while setting the offside trap. Bellerin was five yards behind Routledge at the start of the play and was not able to make up the lost ground. The Spanish fullback enjoyed a lot of space down the right flank in the first half but wasted some good situations with poor crosses. He tested Fabianski in the 25th with a swerving drive from 30 yards.
The Swans created another chance in the 65th with their own version of gegenpressing. Ayew intercepted Coquelin’s tame back pass for Paulista to feed Sigurdsson, who skipped past Mertesacker and rounded Cech to fire wide from a tight angle while Gomis and Ayew expected a pass to tap in. Paulista shied away from a 50-50 challenge he should have won.
In a less dangerous situation in the 74th, Paulista gave away a free kick with a stupid foul on Ayew. Williams beat Cech to the ball to bundle home Sigurdsson’s subsequent free kick. I thought Cech should have punched away a ball that was in the middle of the six-yard box. The Arsenal defense also looked strangely passive. Nobody seemed to mark Williams and neither Monreal nor Coquelin cleared the ball despite standing in front of the Swansea centerback.
A six-pointer against Spurs
Coquelin did a great job in midfield, killing Swansea’s counterattacking opportunities with timely interceptions. The Swans hit Arsenal on the fast break in the 35th after Sanchez lost possession, but Coquelin ended the threat with a great challenge on Gomis. The French midfielder won 7 of 8 tackles (the most for any player) and 72.7% of his duels. His understanding with Ramsey is slowly improving. It hasn’t reached the heights of the duo formed by Coquelin and Cazorla yet. But let’s keep in mind that Ramsey and Coquelin have played very few games together in central midfield. Ramsey mostly focused on his defensive duties, winning 2 of 3 tackles and 75% of his duels. He had very little impact in the final third, creating just the chance that Giroud smashed against the bar and mustering a shot off target.
Can the Gunners stop the bleeding against Tottenham on Saturday? It’s basically a six-pointer. If they lose at White Hart Lane, they will trail Tottenham by six points and will virtually fall out of contention. But if they win, they will go level on points with their London rivals in the standings and will still have a shot at the title. The odds are against us. We will miss Cech and Koscielny through injury. Our form has been so poor lately that I would sign right away for a draw.
No matter how this frustrating season ends, the staff will have to take a hard look at the scouting department. Leicester and Tottenham are doing better than us because their scouts have done a better job.
Scouting failures in France, England & Spain
Arsenal used to sign some of the most underrated players in the French league (Diaby, Song, Sagna, Koscielny) but now the Foxes have a better knowledge of the French market. Leicester signed Mahrez from Le Havre for less than 400,000 pounds and Kante from Caen for about 6 million pounds. Mahrez would have been an upgrade on our right wing while Kante would have been a better option than Flamini and Arteta. Hopefully, Reine-Adelaide won’t prove a disastrous signing like Park, Chamakh or Gervinho.
The Gunners also used to smartly recruit in the United Kingdom (Pennant, Gibbs, Ramsey) and Spain (Lauren, Fabregas, Monreal). However, Spurs outperformed us in those markets last year by signing Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid for about 12 million pounds and Alli from Milton Keynes Dons for about 5 million pounds. By contrast, Arsenal signed Chambers from Southampton for about 15 million pounds and Paulista from Villareal for about 11 million pounds. Alderweireld would have been an upgrade on Mertesacker, Paulista and Chambers at centerback while Alli would have been a perfect alternative for Cazorla in midfield.
Please, let’s not repeat the same mistakes this summer!