Arsenal 1-0 Swansea: not pretty, but who cares?
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Frimpong (Coquelin), Ramsey, Arteta, Arshavin (Benayoun), Walcott, van Persie (Chamakh)
The Short Report
This may not have been the emphatic victory we were hoping for, but this was all about the result rather than the performance. Andrey Arshavin’s first half strike proved enough to see off a dogged Swansea side and give us our first league win since 1st May.
The AL Report
That was hard work, wasn’t it? Swansea were far from the willing lambs to the slaughter many expected them to be, but we finally have our first three points of the season. Not only that, we didn’t lose anyone to injury, nobody got sent off and we kept a clean sheet that was very welcome indeed after the debacle at Old Trafford.
Much of the pre-match excitement around the pubs of N5 was generated by the prospect of seeing our new boys in action. All five of them were in the squad. Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta came straight into the starting eleven and in total there were five changes from the team destroyed in Manchester. Swansea came into the contest still looking for their first goal, let alone a first win. They were also without manager Brendan Rodgers, who had travelled to Northern Ireland to be with his family, following his father’s death on Friday night.
The game got off to a lively start and Arteta made an instant impact in the first minute, driving forward to set up Aaron Ramsey, who could only blast wide. Swansea looked dangerous and would have taken the lead had Wojciech Szczesny not made a superb save, getting down low to deny Danny Graham from close range.
Theo Walcott should have scored after being sent through by Andrey Arshavin. He got his shot past the keeper, but a deflection took the sting out of it, allowing Ashley Williams to clear off the line. We then put together our best move of the half, with Robin van Persie working the ball to Emmanuel Frimpong. Sadly his finish was far from ‘dench’ – it went well wide.
Swansea had a couple of chances including a shot by Joe Allan that was intercepted by Mertesacker, who had little to do otherwise. They were doing a fine job of keeping us at bay until Michel Vorm did his best impression of Manuel Almunia five minutes before half-time. In attempting to roll the ball out to Angel Rangel, he somehow managed to hit the defender’s heels, allowing Arshavin to stroke home from the tightest of angles.
The second half was an anxious affair for the most part. Walcott and Laurent Koscielny got booked as the nerves started to creep in. We let Swansea come on to us without ever really finding any fluency of our own. Scott Sinclair’s free-kick smacked off the bar shortly before van Persie hit the post. The skipper had other chances to double the lead, including an effort from the edge of the box that went over and another when he just failed to meet Frimpong’s excellent cross on 68 minutes.
We got our first glimpse of Yossi Benayoun when he replaced Arshavin - surprisingly our best player on the day. I was relieved when Marouane Chamakh finally came off the bench, as he had been selfishly blocking my view by warming up directly in front of me. He had a pretty decent cameo and went close with a powerful header from Bacary Sagna’s cross.
The referee added a nerve-shredding four minutes injury time, during which Swansea did everything they could to rescue a point, winning a couple of corners and keeping us pegged in the box. Thanks to some last-ditch defending and assured keeping by Szczesny, we managed to hang on. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t especially convincing, but if you care about Arsenal Football Club, you’ll know that the only thing that mattered was the result.
Next up: A tough trip to Borussia Dortmund, who walked away with the Bundesliga title last season. 80,000 hysterical fans are bound to give us a warm welcome. What’s the wurst that can happen? (sorry).
Man of the Match
Winston Churchill once described Russia as a ‘riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma’. It sounds like just about the perfect description for their national team captain. Andrey Arshavin has spent much of the last year looking sluggish, out-of-form and disinterested, yet his stats suggest otherwise. He was our most dangerous player in the first-half and although his goal came about after some comedy goalkeeping, he still had plenty to do. It was an excellent finish from a Kanu-esque angle – possibly his most important for us to date.
Mikel Arteta immediately looked at home in an Arsenal shirt, although his debut was solid rather than spectacular. He could have had an assist to his name in the first minute after winning possession and teeing up Ramsey. From then on, he kept things ticking over nicely in the heart of midfield and linked up well with van Persie throughout. His level dropped a bit in the second half along with the rest of the team, but there was enough here to whet the appetite – a promising start.
Moan of the Match
Robin van Persie handed Marouane Chamakh the captain’s armband as he was substituted ten minutes from time. Clearly embarrassed, the Moroccan asked Pat Rice who he should give it to. Pat didn’t seem to know and turned back to ask the boss, but by then Chamakh had to join the game and had wrenched it over his own sleeve. Not a massive deal in the scheme of things, just a slightly farcical episode that makes you wonder if anyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing at the moment.
The Final Word
It feels good to be finally up and running in the league, even if the hoped -for backlash never quite materialised. The main priorities over the coming weeks will be restoring confidence and integrating all the new players – something our rivals were able to do during pre-season. It is not going to happen overnight, so I won’t mind seeing a few more disjointed performances like this one as long as we can grind out the results.
Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5
Image by Wonker via Flickr (reproduced using a Creative Commons License)
2011-12 | Match Reports