SWANSEA, WALES - JANUARY 15: Danny Graham of Swansea City hugs Nathan Dyer after Swansea were awarded a penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Arsenal at Liberty Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Arsenal are now four points behind fourth place after losing to a frankly superior Swansea team in Wales today. An early goal from Robin van Persie didn't really set the tone it should have, as the Swans' midfield dominated Arsenal's all match long, and a lack of possession and errors with passing and defending doomed Arsenal despite a Theo Walcott equalizer. All credit to Swansea, who have limited resources, but are a terrific team.
Follow us after the jump for the report of everything that happened.
Mikel Arteta was out injured on the day for Arsenal, so Yossi Benayoun moved into the front of the midfield. Swansea had an early shot well wide before Arsenal launched their first attack through the middle, Theo Walcott not quite making it to the through ball.
It wouldn't take long for Arsenal to make their first real chance, and their first goal. A good ball forward from Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song was redirected by Andrei Arshavin right into the path of Robin van Persie, who ran onto it, hesitated, and then slammed home a chance from two yards underneath Michel Vorm. 4 minutes gone, and Arsenal were already up 1-0, Song and Arshavin doing very good work in the middle, and Robin van Persie finishing like he does.
The game trundled along for the next seven minutes until Swansea put together a good attack. Nathan Dyer gave Laurent Koscielny some trouble, but Kos did well until his clearance went right back to Swans. A handball on Ignasi Miquel gave them a free kick, which went out for a goal kick.
But they would get a chance. Dyer, in the box, spun well, and Aaron Ramsey caught him on the ankle. It may have been a soft penalty, but there was contact. Scott Sinclair took the penalty well, and it was 1-1. It was a bad penalty to concede, but Swansea had been pressing well for a few minutes as well, and their response wasn't unworthy of a chance.
And they kept pressing. Arsenal were bereft of ball retention ideas, much as in the second half of Fulham. Swansea looked much on top for the next six or seven minutes, their home possession stats no mirage as the contest wore on. The match mostly took place in the midfield, though. 29 minutes in, Benayoun found a hilariously wide open van Persie, whose low shot was saved well by Vorm. Swansea threatened from a free kick, a Steven Caulker header back across goal needing a Koscielny clearance.
Swansea continued to out-possess Arsenal. Forty minutes in, Dyer came whizzing down the right, cut inside, and launched a good low shot at Wojciech Szczesny, which the Pole saved easily. Arsenal won a free kick on 44 minutes, which Arshavin took, flicked on by Walcott, but saved by Vorm.
Halftime arrived. What had looked to be a surprisingly easy start for Arsenal vanished eight minutes later, and then never looked like coming back.
Swansea brought on Gylfi Sigurdsson for Kenny Agustien to start the second half. Walcott had a good chance twenty seconds from kickoff, but didn't make it count. Miquel put in a wonderful cross from the left, but nobody got on the end of it, and then Arshavin skied a chance from 25 yards. Four minutes later, Swans had a corner which cleared everyone, fell to Dyer, and then went high and wide. Arsenal came back up the other end through Miquel again, but nobody was at the far post. At the other end, Joe Allen let fly from 20, but his shot went thankfully wide.
Dyer, though, wouldn't make the same mistake twice. Aaron Ramsey lost the ball in midfield, Allen picking it up and picking out Dyer, who had run into the space behind Miquel. Nobody in front of him, he simply let fly past a stranded Szczesny, and it was 2-1.
It wasn't less than Swans deserved. Arsenal's midfield, particularly Ramsey and Benayoun, had done very little to maintain possession.
It was time for subs, 63 minutes in. Arshavin and Benayoun came off for Thierry Henry and Tomas Rosicky. Whether it would shore things up in midfield remained to be seen. The latter let fly from 25 yards, bereft of other options, but his shot went wide.
Arsenal were not done, though. Djourou spotted Walcott getting past a well out of position Ashley Williams, and he ran onto the pass and chipped over Vorm for 2-2.
But it would last 45 seconds. Sigurdsson did what Djourou did, and Danny Graham finished at a tight angle past Szczesny. 3-2. The match was coming off the rails. Arsenal had a corner which fell to Per Mertesacker's feet from two yards, but he somehow shot at a 70-degree angle and missed the net entirely. It was impossible, but he did it.
Arsenal were coming on now. Walcott tried to cross, but it was blocked for a corner.
Ready the Ox; Wenger did, and replaced Mertesacker with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal were pressing for an equalizer now and, but for Ramsey losing the ball, they looked good value perhaps. 82 minutes in, Dyer came off for Wayne Routledge. Walcott crossed well a minute later, but Ramsey's header went straight at Vorm. Three minutes later, Ox pinged a cross from the left which Rosicky volleyed over. A minute later, Rosicky fired a good shot at Vorm, which he saved, and Koscielny's rebound effort was saved, too.
It was desperate stuff, two minutes left; now four minutes of extra time...and here came Arsenal again. Only no shot was forthcoming, as Arsenal tried to dribble through everyone on earth.
The difficulty of that task tells you how injury time went. Full time arrived, Swansea deserved 3-2 winners. There is a lot of work to be done if Arsenal are to remain in the Champions League spots.