ARSENAL 2 SWANSEA 2
It was another disappointing result, and more dropped points, as Swansea left The New Home of Football with a point on Tuesday night after a 2-2 draw.
After heavy defeats away to City and Liverpool we consolidated with 0-0 draws at home to Chelsea and United. However, on this occasion our next opponent was less high-profile which, combined with the smaller number of games remaining, meant another 0-0 ‘consolidation’ draw wouldn’t suffice.
Surprisingly Wenger went with ten of the eleven who started at Stamford Bridge, with the only change being Flamini coming in for Podolski. Personally I’d have liked to see a couple more changes to introduce some freshness to a side that has looked very leggy of late. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I know, but Sanogo and Gnabry would not only have brought freshness to the team, but also some much-needed pace and movement. But I’m assuming Arsene’s theory was to stick with his proven and experienced players at such a difficult stage of the season, and to allow his ‘wounded animals’ the opportunity to respond and it’s hard to argue with that.
I thought we started ok. Swansea seemed intent on sitting deep and soaking up the pressure, and whilst we created no real chances, I felt like it would be a matter of when, not if. And then we did something of old, we let them score with their first attack. It was a nice build-up from Swansea, some nice possession football and an excellent cross for Bony to powerfully head home. But where were the tackles? Where was the pressure on the ball? Where was the attempt to stop the cross? And why did Vermaelen let his man get ahead of him so easily?
The goal understandably rattled us and from that stage onwards it was Swansea who looked the steadier and more accomplished, whilst we gave possession away cheaply and just didn’t look like scoring. The half time whistle blew. We were 0-1 down, and City and Everton were winning elsewhere. I said on twitter it was going to be a massive second half, and so it proved, but sadly in a cruelly painful way.
By this stage I had left for work and was following proceedings on the ferry via Twitter. Based upon my timeline things hadn’t improved in the second half, so it was much to my surprise that between stepping off the ferry and reaching my desk at work we had turned it around. Substitute Podolski got the first himself (after great work from Gibbs), and then turned provider for the second with a quite delicious ball across the face of goal setting up Giroud to fire home.
However, I think my instant reaction tells its own story. I texted my girlfriend (who had messaged to inform me of our quick turnaround) to say “awesome, but now we need to try to hold on!”. It seems the team had the same fearful thoughts (understandable given confidence levels going into the game) and sadly what felt like an inevitable equaliser came from the Welsh side.
Perhaps we should have been awarded the free kick in the build-up, not Swansea, but there was still plenty of opportunity to clear our lines. Instead Leon Britton found himself in far too much space and his run not tracked. The BFG finally came sliding in, but having left it too late his clearance went into the path of the on rushing Szczesny, who tried to flick the ball clear only to see it ricochet into his net off the unfortunate Flamini.
It would have been a crushing goal to concede at the best of times, but to happen after the weekend we’d had, and on a night when both City and Everton had won 3-0 away from home, was soul-destroying. Everton are now only six points behind, with a game in hand. As we face City this weekend I fear it could be three behind, with a game in hand, by the time we visit Goodison in a couple of weeks. I hope I’m wrong.
But one thing is for sure. The battle for a top four finish has well and truly begun. What worries me most is form and fitness. With regards to form, the three teams above us are flying and Everton have won four in a row. We on the other hand have only three wins in our last nine. And in relation to fitness, Wenger announced in his post-match press conference that the earliest we’ll have any of the injured players back is two weeks. It means we’ll be facing City and Everton without Koscielny, Ramsey, Özil, Wilshere, and of course Walcott who is out for the season. Big players, key players. Their continued absence is really hurting us now.
But feeling sorry for ourselves will achieve nothing. Dissecting everything that has been done wrong or gone wrong since last summer will also achieve nothing. And likewise, speculating over the future of Wenger will achieve nothing. Why? Because until this summer arrives there is nothing we can do about any of it. We can only work with what we’ve got. A top four finish is still very much in our hands, as is the FA Cup (I know, I know!). It’s time to work a little harder, fight a little harder, and to stick together. Here’s hoping for a pleasant surprise this weekend; come on The Arsenal.