Michael Laudrup’s side have had a very impressive season thus far. They’re in the top half of the League table, in the semi-finals of the League Cup, and have given a game to almost every team they’ve faced. But I don’t need to remind anyone of their threat, Arsenal have experienced it firsthand.
Wenger’s attack has been unpredictable to the say the least. I have not been carried away by the big scores and so the failures have not surprised me as much. There are two teams in any football game and the quality of one side’s performance inevitably affects that of the other. In Arsenal’s case this season, this effect has been more pronounced than one would hope to see. If a team is genuinely strong offensively and can impose its quality on the game irrespective of the opposition, we’d see dominant attacking displays repeated on a predictable basis. The Gunners haven’t been able to string together a run of even four or five games where the attack has consistently impressed. That tells me they’re reliant on the opposition’s weaknesses to express their creative talents. Unfortunately, at this level they won’t get too many easy games.
Laudrup’s side are technically competent and organizationally sound. They’ve the sixth best defensive record in the League. That’s no mean feat for a side on their budget. Don’t be surprised if they make it hard for Arsenal to build any sort of a rhythm in this game. Vorm is not likely to be a busy man. That doesn’t mean the visitors can’t or won’t score.
The Gunners will have to rely on individual moments for their creative breaks. Walcott’s pace, Cazorla’s tricky, Wilshere’s drive, and/or Giroud’s presence can lead to chances. There are also some individual mistakes in the Swansea back four that could gift the Gunners a golden chance or a goal just like Southampton did.
It’s going to be tight at the other end as well. I thought the reason Swansea scored a couple of late goals at the Emirates was that the Arsenal players pushed too hard in search of a goal and lost the balance in the centre of the park. This issue with balance has been around all season. It’s related to Arsenal’s consistent failure to press higher up the pitch despite the efforts of some players. It is also connected with the work done to make the defence better, which has been partially successful in that the shape of the team and the choices made by the players are better when they do sit back. But that approach to defending hasn’t suited the attacking game as the transitions have been rather slow and ineffective against opponents who have challenged the Gunners in the central third of the pitch.
Their second goal was just down to terrible individual errors. Unfortunately, that’s been a common occurrence for the Gunners over the last few seasons irrespective of the players involved.
The hosts have pace and trickery in the wide areas, and make clever use of the spaces in the box as they don’t simply hang hopeful crosses up. Arsenal have to be alert to the movement of their midfielders, Michu in particular. Not tracking the runs could be fatal. And someone will have to watch out for cut-backs to the edge of the box or the penalty spot.
Wenger can pick a strong team if he so wishes. There are some choices to be made.
Sagna has had a couple of difficult games. Some might say Jenkinson should be given a go. In my opinion, unless the Frenchman needs a rest – which is unlikely given his physical qualities – there is no reason to make the switch. Sagna is the better player, by quite some distance.
Cazorla is another one who’s had a couple of disappointing games, by his standards. I have been surprised by the limited game-time that Rosicky has seen. If fit, Little Mozart would be a good choice in midfield.
Up front, the Theo Walcott experiment continues to yield mixed results. He had a good time against Reading and Newcastle but struggled against Wigan and Southampton. While his pace is always a threat, his inability to get on the ball and influence the game in any meaningful manner when the opponents mark him well and limit the spaces to run into means starting him in a central role will continue to make the work of his teammates that much harder, particularly against teams that can keep the ball and are well-organized.
I would like to see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
Don’t be surprised if Arsene retains the same eleven that started the previous game or something very similar. His system demands continuity and excellent understanding between the individuals and that means more time on the pitch in the same roles.
Arsenal have the players to win this game and go through. Any eleven Wenger picks should be good enough. It won’t be plain sailing but they should edge it by the solitary goal or the odd one in three. Arsenal also have the ability to lose or draw the tie. When the game is tight and it boils down to certain moments of quality or weakness, the Gunners have been way too volatile for any prediction to ring true. Will Swansea have one eye on their League Cup semi-final? Let’s hope they do.Follow @goonerdesi