In a survey organized by the League Managers Association, Laudrup has been voted coach of the year and Michu the signing of the season. The Spanish midfielder has already proven to be a thorn in Arsenal’s side scoring three of Swansea’s four goals against the Gunners in their three encounters this season.
The manner in which Michu has scored his goals against Arsenal is worth recalling. In their shocking 0-2 win at the Emirates, the Spaniard scored his first by playing a deft one-two with Luke Moore after finding the ball in a great deal of space ahead of a fairly high, disorganized, and indecisive Arsenal line. He made matters worse by latching on to Jenkinson’s mistake around the centre line before producing another composed finish.
His goal in the 2-2 draw in the FA Cup again came against a high Arsenal line that could not deal with the second ball. Koscielny lost the physical duel and went to ground, Mertesacker was caught flat-footed and just didn’t have the pace to recover.
While Arsenal’s defensive efforts against Bayern were commendable, it will be interesting to see how players like Jenkinson, Mertesacker, and Koscielny perform against Swansea.
The sale of Danny Graham might work in Arsenal’s favour, particularly if Luke Moore misses the game through injury. Michu performs better when he plays off a leading striker as he takes up very good positions just in front of the central defenders and times his runs wonderfully. He also has excellent ability to combine with clever teammates when opponents play a high line.
Although he doesn’t become a bad player when pushed further up, Swansea’s signing of the season does lose some of his qualities when he has to play as the central striker. In such a case he doesn’t get as many chances to run at the opposition goal. However, if Arsenal continue to drop deep as they did against Bayern, Michu will get plenty of opportunities to get into the penalty box and do his thing, i.e. find space and finish chances.
Too much attention on one player can at times make things easier for his teammates. The Gunners will have to avoid focussing all their attention on the threat posed down the middle because Swansea have some very tricky and creative wide players in their ranks. Dyer, Hernandez, and Routledge can all provide assists and score goals. De Guzman’s forward movement from midfield can also be an attacking option for the Swans.
Considering the possibility that the Welsh side will not be playing with the metaphorical handbrake on as Bayern seemed to, it’s quite likely that Arsenal will have to produce a better all-round defensive game on Saturday than they had to in midweek. If Swansea get players free in the attacking third even half as often as the Germans did, they will succeed where the Bavarians failed and Arsenal will not keep a clean sheet.
In order to produce a stronger team performance Arsenal will need greater control of the midfield than they had the Allianz Arena, something that is patently not beyond their abilities. It will be interesting to see if they continue their attempts to press higher up the pitch. To be honest, I am not completely sure what Arsenal’s plan was in Germany as they pressed high up the pitch but were also very quick to drop back on to the edge of their box when Bayern moved beyond that pressing. While it worked in that game, we’ll have to see if such an approach can be successful over a long period against different types of offensive threats before forming any conclusions.
Irrespective of the choice of defensive tactics employed, the central defenders must not be left in a 2-v-2 with opposing attackers as they were in the 0-2 defeat at the Emirates in the reverse fixture or more recently at White Hart Lane. That is just an open invitation to trouble, particularly when the defenders are unclear as regards their choices and positioning.
In defence, Swansea are a fairly well-organized unit with every player pulling his weight. That said, it’s worth noting the fact that their 19 goals conceded figure at home puts them a modest 14th in the list of home defences (Joint with Arsenal). They’ve been able to offset it by scoring nearly 2 goals a game at home, which has also led to some very entertaining games. The Welsh side are more vulnerable at home where they seem to take greater offensive initiative (their away defence is the third best in the League!) but they remain hard to beat as United, Chelsea, and Liverpool have all failed to win at the Liberty Stadium.
In fact, Swansea have only lost 2 home games all season and that does highlight the nature of Arsenal’s challenge. It is of course, also an opportunity as Spurs are the next team to visit this ground and could potentially drop points.
I have a feeling Arsenal will need at least 2 goals in order to win this game. And they won’t score with their only two shots on target this time around. That means the creative players will have to find ways to combine with the forwards and ensure a steady supply of chances. Rosicky’s drive through the middle, Cazorla’s raking diagonals, Walcott’s runs and positioning, and Giroud’s lay-offs and flick-ons can all make a difference if the execution is up to scratch. The Gunners will probably also need more of an offensive contribution from their full-backs who performed admirable conservative roles in Munich.
Arsene said he’d like to rotate his side a bit for this game but he doesn’t have that many options. Monreal will come in for Gibbs. Vermaelen could come in for Mertesacker if the German needs a break but I highly doubt that will be the case. Diaby’s presence in midfield could be useful but as we’ve seen this season, the Frenchman’s inclusion could prove to be a big gamble. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho could also be considered, particularly if Wenger feels the need to rest Walcott.
Given the imminent international break and the limited number of games remaining after that, I think Wenger should go with his strongest line-up on current form.
I’d like to see,
Fabianksi – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
For over two years now I’ve maintained that most of Arsenal’s problems are not down to issues with individual players. Vermaelen and Szczesny have made some mistakes in the recent past but their absence does not guarantee an error-free outing for the Gunners.
It is imperative that the defenders are all governed by a common tactical brain and their choices work in unison. Similarly, they will need support from the six players in front of them whether it’s in terms of putting pressure on the ball, or tracking back, or something else given the game situation.
And they have to do this without sacrificing offensive bite. This balance has proven hard to find and sustain this season.
Normally, a win against a team like Bayern, and that too in their own backyard, would be a massive confidence boost. But this season we just can’t be sure when the next twist in Arsenal’s Jekyll and Hyde tale will appear. Fingers crossed.Follow @goonerdesi