Arsenal visit the Liberty Stadium with a chance to pull away from Liverpool and get within a point of Chelsea in fourth. But Swansea’s impressive home record suggests a win will be a commendable achievement. The Welsh side have only conceded 4 goals at home – Joint lowest in the League on par with City – and lost only once with United sneaking a 1-0 win back in mid-November.
That defensive record has been vital to the hosts’ survival campaign thus far as Brendan Rodgers’ side have adopted a ball-playing approach to the game but have only managed one goal per game in their 20 matches thus far. The stats, therefore, suggest this will be another tight low-scoring fixture.
Wenger captured Swansea’s style perfectly with the phrase “Conservative Possession”. The hosts do have a lot of the ball in most of their games but they tend to play it safe at the back with central defenders and other defensive players dominating the passing stats.
Brendan Rodgers relies on his wingers for attacking impetus and that will make this game very interesting as Arsenal really are running out of full-backs. Swansea will hope to win the individual battles in the wide areas for getting their goal. But Arsenal should be able to keep a clean sheet in this game if the full-backs get adequate support. The hosts won’t commit too many bodies forward regularly and that should keep the Gunners relatively safe at the back.
In attack, the Gunners will have to rely on their pressing. When opponents try to play the ball around at the back, co-ordinated pressing can result in errors that can result in gilt-edged chances. It won’t be easy obviously, as few teams have been able to beat Vorm in the Swansea goal and none more than once, but United did capitalize on an error at the back to take the three points and that’s the template Arsenal must look to follow.
Arshavin can be a very handy player to have in such a game as he has the ability to pounce on errors and provide the incisive pass even if his shooting ability has currently abandoned him. It’s worth noting that Arsenal’s win at home against the same opponents was also a 1-0 win that resulted from a defensive error that gave Arshavin his only goal of this Premiership season.
Djourou should be back for this game so Arsenal will have sufficient quality and experience on the right. But the Swiss defender will have to do better with his positioning and decision making. Miquel will start on the left and will be more in need of support. Koscielny will have to put in some covering tackles and track the runs behind the youngster. The midfield will have to cover for him when he does bomb forward, which he does more frequently than other make-shift full-backs.
Arsene will give late fitness tests to Mertesacker and Rosicky. Hopefully both will come through, especially the German, otherwise there is a good chance Squillaci will partner Koscielny at the centre of defence. The Frenchman with Djourou and Miquel will result in a defence very vulnerable against the clever movement of the hosts. Song and Arteta’s defensive contribution will take on added importance in such a scenario.
Up front, some will want to see Henry in the starting line-up but I feel his best role is as an impact sub. Just the sight of Henry coming on can give the players and fans a lift if things aren’t going according to plan. Putting the legend in from a start can have the reverse effect if he fails to perform at the required physical levels and has to be taken off at a difficult stage in the game.
Probable starting line-up,
Szczesny – Djourou, Mertesacker/Squillaci, Koscielny, Miquel – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Arshavin.
I dearly hope there is an early goal in this game. That will open the game up and the style of both sides will make it very entertaining. Without the early goal we might see a lot of patient football from both sides that will enthral the purists but not many others.
In completely unrelated news, I read that legends like Pires, Cannavaro, and Crespo will be joining others like Jay Jay Okocha, Juan Pablo Sorin, and Robbie Fowler in the Indian Premier League (no, not the Cricket one). More on that here. Is this the start of a very interesting period for Desi football fans!?