Swansea 3-2 Arsenal: Swansea outpass Arsenal
Swansea recorded a famous victory after a controlled display.
Brendan Rodgers’ line-up was largely as expected. Kemy Austien played in midfield alongside regulars Joe Allen and Leon Britton, while Steven Caulker continued at the back.
Arsenal are now without Gervinho, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations, so Andrei Arshavin started on the left with Thierry Henry on the bench. Yossi Benayoun replaced the injured Mikel Arteta, and Ignasi Miquel was at left-back.
In a battle of passing and pressing, Swansea were calmer and more composed on the ball.
The sides played with a similar style and formation, with Arsenal starting the stronger in the first few minutes. When the game calmed down, however, it was Swansea who passed the ball better. Both sides focus upon retaining the ball, but Swansea were more composed at the back – they like to take plenty of touches in their own half, and build up play gradually, drawing the opposition out of position before looking for the killer ball.
At their best, Arsenal do the same – but without recognised full-backs and with Per Mertesacker frequently knocking the ball forward aimlessly and conceding possession, Arsenal were sloppy.
However, the interesting thing about the passing statistics was that neither side passed as reliably as they usually do. Swansea’s pass completion ratio was 80% compared to their usual 85.5%, Arsenal’s 79% compared to their usual 84.9%. There were lots of underhit square balls, lots of hurried passes in midfield.
A major reason for that, of course, was that both sides knew each other’s game and tried to press from the front. This was a huge factor in the game, because the pattern of pressing fitted the pattern of the game overall – Arsenal started better but faded, Swansea started slowly but got much more energetic and efficient as the game went on. They were also much better at winning tackles, with a significantly higher success rate. (Incidentally, this was a very clean game, with no yellow cards).
It was particularly impressive how Danny Graham played upfront for Swansea – he was always working to close down and cut off passing angles, and was a major reason why Arsenal had problems playing out from the back.
Swansea were in control of possession, which meant Arsenal were playing on the counter. Whether this was Arsenal being ‘forced’ to play that way is debatable – they are a much more counter-attacking side than last season anyway, and their best away performance of the season was at Chelsea when they played almost exclusively on the break.
What isn’t in doubt, though, is that their transitions from defence to attack were very poor. Swansea pushed up and won the ball quickly, Arsenal often wasted the first pass or didn’t have the composure to attempt a positive ball rather than a clearance.
Rodgers brought on Gylfi Sigurdsson for Augustien to play as the highest midfielder up the pitch, moving Allen a little deeper. This worked well in both respects – Sigurdsson played some excellent passes including the assist for Graham’s winner, while Allen helped out Britton defensively. In the second half, Allen made five successful tackles, more than any other player managed in the entire game.
The game was mainly based around use of the ball and pressing than individual positioning, but there was one exception to this. Miquel, playing out of position at left-back, played far too high up the pitch and left a gap in behind him, which Laurent Koscielny had to try and cover whilst holding a position in the middle.
Both Swansea’s second and third goals came from a player getting the ball in behind Miquel down that side, and it’s clear that Arsenal’s lack of a recognised full-back on either side is causing them major problems. After the defeat to Fulham, where the game was turned around after Fulham targeted Johan Djourou to get him sent off (in Arsene Wenger’s view), it is two consecutive games where Arsenal have turned wins into defeats primarily because of a weakness at full-back.
Swansea outpassed Arsenal, which was the first victory. The second, equally crucial factor was managing to stop them breaking. This was partly because they pressed well at the front when the ball was lost and partly because Arsenal played poorly – Alex Song wasn’t a force, Aaron Ramsey had a disappointing game and Benayoun doesn’t yet look comfortable in the system having started so few games.
That, combined with a clear Arsenal weakness in the left-back position, was enough for the win. Swansea will play much better this season, but playing against a side like Arsenal suits their passing game.
Swansea 3-2 Arsenal: Swansea outpass Arsenal