Arsene produced a couple of surprises in the starting eleven. Ramsey on the left must have raised a few eyebrows. It could be that Wenger wanted another midfielder in the side to counter Swansea’s technical prowess. It may also be that Podolski needed a breather as he’s used to a winter break. The partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny was also an interesting change. The German had a tough outing but I liked the idea of giving Vermaelen a rest. Walcott went to the wing and Giroud came back into the centre. Is that the end of the Theo-Striker experiment, at least for the foreseeable future?
It’s also worth noting that Laudrup rested some of his key players in this game. Michu, Pablo Hernandez, and Rangel were on the bench, while Ashley Williams wasn’t even in the squad.
The first half was predictably dull. The fight was in the middle but neither side showed enough quality to genuinely control territory or tempo. Arsenal had a bit more possession while the hosts just shaded the limited chances that were created. A Danny Graham shot that forced a save following a clever long ball, and a Kyle Bartley header that rattled the bar come to mind. The Gunners got into promising positions in and around the box but I don’t recall a big save from Vorm in the first half.
Arsenal showed genuine desire to press higher up the pitch but they lacked cohesion – as has been the case all season – and this gave Swansea some opportunities to break forward. Laudrup’s team didn’t have enough precision, composure, and finishing quality in the final third.
The start to the second half was better. Arsenal’s pressing was more urgent and it forced some mistakes. The play was concentrated in the Swansea half for a while. There were a couple of shots from Giroud, a penalty shout, and other promising moments for the Gunners in the initial 10 minutes of the second period.
An injury to Giroud broke their momentum and gave Laudrup a chance to bring a couple of his big players on. Michu’s impact was instant but it was again a case of terrible defending. This goal wasn’t dissimilar to the first one he scored at the Emirates. In that instance it was Vermaelen tangling with Graham, this time it was Koscielny. Mertesacker was caught square on and the slowness of his reactions proved costly. He should have started dropping back the moment Koscielny went into that duel. Will someone please explain to me why Vermaelen – Kocielny is not a good pairing while either can be paired with Mertesacker? Genuine question that.
For a few minutes the game was stretched. Both sides were getting some space in the attacking areas. Then something strange happened. Swansea stopped playing. It’s a problem we’ve seen with Arsenal when they sometimes take the lead and don’t know how to proceed. And just like the Gunners, Laudrup’s side does not look like an assured defensive unit when they decide to sit back and invite pressure. From around the 65th minute onwards it was all Arsenal.
The hosts allowed Arsenal to set camp in front of their defensive third and their nervousness, apparent from the sloppy manner in which they kept losing possession, boosted the visitors’ belief. Even when one promising position after another was squandered, most fans on either side would have seen the goal coming.
It came from a corner that was seemingly too deep. I liked the way Sagna headed it backwards and kept it away from the Swansea goalkeeper and players. Was Koscielny trying to shoot or just playing it into a danger area? Podolski’s finish on the turn was superb.
The second one came soon after. Gibbs played a one-two with Giroud and scored with a well-timed volley. The full-back had gotten into useful areas often. This time he had the end product.
After the goal Swansea’s nervousness was transferred to the Gunners as they retreated into their half. The moment it was clear Arsenal were trying to sit back instead of competing with a resurgent opponent, I could see the equalizer coming. And it didn’t take long.
Once again it was a set-piece and this one looked like a well worked routine. All the Swansea players stayed quite a way away from the usually congested central areas in front of the goal. There was a particular camera angle from which I could not see a single white shirt in the six yard box when the corner was about to be taken. The intention probably was to swing the ball away from the goal with hopes of catching the defence off guard when they’re trying to push up. It worked, in an unexpected manner perhaps, but it did catch the Arsenal players completely by surprise as was evident from the time and space available to Graham despite so many purple shirts in the vicinity of the goal.
Both sides could have won it late in the game. Koscielny forced a big save from Vorm while Tiendalli almost caught Szczesny out on the near post. In the end 2-2 seemed a fair reflection of the events of a largely low-quality game that became entertaining in the final 10 minutes.
All-in-all it wasn’t a bad game from the Gunners. Many Premier League teams have drawn their games. Playing Cup ties away from home is not easy. That said, there’s nothing wrong in demanding more against a Swansea side that rested a number of key players.
Szczesny: I thought he could have done better for both goals, particularly the second one. Almost got caught out at the end as he left a gaping hole at the near post. Still has a long way to go to convince me he can be a long term solution in goal for Arsenal.
Sagna: Better defensive game than the previous two efforts. Could he have done better for the second goal? I lost count of the number of his crosses that were blocked by the first man. Nevertheless, it was a hardworking and appreciable shift on the flank as he was often left without support.
Mertesacker: Poor body shape and extremely slow reactions for the first goal. It’s not the first time this has happened either. Was also caught out by Graham once in the first half when the striker managed to get on the wrong side and forced a save. Has some weaknesses when the defensive line doesn’t drop back to the edge of the box quickly and these are exposed more often when Arsenal try to press higher up the pitch.
Koscielny: Did well for the Arsenal equalizer, good header late in the game, and did a good job of covering behind Gibbs. Could he have done better in that challenge with Graham?
Gibbs: Excellent goal and a number of useful runs in the attacking areas. Did leave his flank more exposed than Sagna but it’s to be expected when he’s making that many darts into the opposition box. MotM in my opinion.
I’m usually not critical of the defenders every time the team concedes some goals but in this game the back five should have done better for both goals.
Arteta: I thought he had a sloppy game by his near-impeccable standards. Still an above average game with a useful presence in front of the defence.
Cazorla: Wasn’t able to influence proceedings from an attacking point of view. There were a number of disappointing passes in the final third. Even in that 15-20 minute period when Arsenal were rampant, I don’t recall any exceptional moment from the Spaniard. Was involved in the build-up of many moves, but not in a way you’d expect from a special player.
Wilshere: Another one who lacked precision in the final third. For instance, there was that moment when he played a clever one-two with Giroud but then completely missed the target from a good position. Set-piece delivery was poor. Again, he was there or thereabouts but not quite up to the mark.
The midfield had very little impact on the game in the first half. They showed greater urgency in the second half and often won the ball in useful areas but their creative contribution was very limited. Don’t think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when we consider the individual quality these three players have.
Walcott: Set-piece delivery was disappointing, didn’t see much of the ball and he often took up positions in crowded areas where his technical limitations came to the fore. Don’t know if he was told to drift into the central areas as often or if it was his decision. Should have stayed wide at times and timed his runs more effectively.
Giroud: Produced a few impressive moments and a number of disappointing ones. The one-twos with Wilshere and Gibbs were exciting, as was the pass for Ramsey that might have resulted in a penalty. But there were some poor touches and wrong choices as well. Should have converted at least one of his chances.
Ramsey: Had a tough time on the left but he did get into some threatening positions more often than most of his teammates. Overdid it a bit in the box though. Created an excellent chance for Giroud. Was that a penalty? Looked like one to me but I can see why it wasn’t given. Wenger’s explanation makes a lot of sense.
The front three were anonymous in the first half. They did influence the game in portions of the second half but better chance creation and conversion is expected. Giroud and Walcott are not technically gifted but they have to find a way to compensate for those weaknesses.
Subs: Podolski again showed his goal-scoring instincts. Why didn’t Rosicky come on?
Wenger: He’s clearly trying to get his team pressing high up the pitch but the work done by Bould seems to demand greater positional integrity in the deeper areas which, in my opinion, has confused the players. Has to sort this out quickly. Also needs to find a way transfer the ‘on paper’ quality of this midfield on to the pitch. Attacking quality is limited, can only be sorted from the transfer market.Follow @goonerdesi