A preview of Arsenal's must-win fixture against the Swans
Arsenal return to the Emirates after two somewhat disappointing away games to face Michael Laudrup's Swansea City who are unbeaten in their last 5. After starting well, Swansea faltered in the month of September, before surging back up the table to 8th place, just 1 point and 1 place behind our heroes. Last season, Swansea gave Arsenal two very tough games, losing 1-0 thanks to a Michel Vorm mistake at the Emirates and outpassing the Arsenal in a 3-2 victory in January, and one should expect something very similar this time around. Swansea's record against the "bigger" clubs is fairly decent; they were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Manchester City, and drew with Liverpool and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium. And, unlike last season where lots of Swansea matches were characterised by 65-70% of possession but very few clear chances, they've become more purposeful this season under the management of Laudrup, having scored 21 goals in 14 games.
The main threat is midfielder/striker Michu, signed for a mere 2.5 million of your British Pound sterling from Rayo Vallecano, who has 8 goals thus far in the Premier League. With Danny Graham and Itay Shecter struggling for goals, Michu has played as a kind of false 9. His ability to finish is excellent, but what makes him extremely dangerous are the late runs he makes into the box, in a way reminiscent of how Cesc Fabregas used to score goals for Arsenal.
Swansea are still very good at retaining possession, but, unlike last season, their wingers now come inside and create chances; Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge lead the way, while Jonathan de Guzman and Ki-Sung Yueng create from midfield, with de Guzman getting into more forward positions. Leon Britton, who is awesome, acts as an Arteta-like distributor and shield of the back four, who are very adept at bringing the ball from the back.
Pressing will be important for both sides; Swansea routinely press and win the ball back through interceptions, and they could easily disrupt Arsenal's passing game in the way Everton and Aston Villa have in recent matches. Yet, Swansea's passing is less effective when they're pressed and options are closed down, and it will be important for Arsenal to not give their players time and space. One would expect Jack Wilshere to lead this pressing; since he's returned, Arsenal have been more dynamic off the ball.
With the ball, Arsenal will want to move the ball quickly, and also down the right hand side, where Angel Rangel is a more attacking fullback than Ben Davies. One would imagine Lukas Podolski will come back into the side, with Theo Walcott staying higher up the pitch for counter attacks on the right hand side and middle. Walcott, of course, still hasn't signed a new contract (maybe Arsenal should FYRE IVOR GAZEEDUS AND HYRE SANDEE OLDERSAN) but is too important to the team to drop.
Bacary Sagna is an injury doubt, but Carl Jenkinson should be able to deputise. Tomas Rosicky could come in for an exhausted Santi Cazorla, but with Rosicky lacking match fitness, it would be no surprise to see Cazorla start again. Aside from that, the team should be the same; Vermaelen will look to build on his excellent performance against Everton, especially with Koscielny out for the next 3 weeks. Aaron Ramsey will probably drop to the bench with Lukas Podolski back, but I would like to see a Wilshere-Ramsey double pivot at some point. But with Arsenal needing to get points on the board, and quickly, every game is important, and there's no room for experimentation.
Jenkinson Mertesacker Vermaelen Gibbs
Walcott Cazorla Podolski
FIFA 13 Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Swansea City.
Wilshere 11', Walcott 42' Podolski 69'