A match report of Arsenal's 1-0 victory over Swansea in the FA Cup 3rd round
Thomas Vermaelen may wear the captain's armband, but is there any doubt that Arsenal's leader is Jack Wilshere? After 86 minutes where Arsenal did all but score, the 21-year old took it upon himself to settle this 3rd round cup tie, running onto a sumptuous flick from Olivier Giroud before half-volleying a left footed shot past the previously unbeatable Michel Vorm. It was the goal of a leader; a man who knew that Arsenal were running out of ideas and couldn't very well afford a sapping 120 minutes 2 days after playing 80 minutes with 10 and 3 days before an extremely important clash at Stamford Bridge. Given the events of the evening, where Wilshere, playing at the position his number would suggest, was at the heart of everything that Arsenal did: the chances they created, and the off the ball work, where, freed from his duties in the double pivot, Wilshere was able to lead Arsenal's pressing.
Arsenal, though, didn't have to leave it so late. Yet, leave it late they did, and it was almost comforting to see an Arsenal side so clearly dominate a match yet fail to put the ball in the back of the net in the manner that they did. It was reminiscent of Arsenal at their profligate best, and if they play in the way they did this evening, with heavy pressing and the creation of lots of chances, securing a top-4 spot and possibly winning the FA Cup will be a lot easier.
Santi Cazorla moved to the left to make way for Wilshere and was still involved. With Kieran Gibbs an excellent marauding fullback, able to constantly provide width in the final third, Cazorla was allowed to come inside, ensuring that Cazorla was always involved. He could've been the provider in the first half with an excellent through ball into the middle of the Swansea penalty box, but Theo Walcott was on his heels, showing that he still lacks the predatory instincts of the best striker. Had he been more aware, he would've had a simple tap-in. Thomas Vermaelen too could've put Arsenal ahead right at the end of the first half, but inexplicably hit a weak shot 4 yards out from goal that Michel Vorm easily saved. The Swansea 'keeper wasn't excessively busy in the first half, but he saved well hit strikes from Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott. Swansea's only threat, of the whole match really, was a Kyle Bartley header that, like in Wales, stuck Wojciech Szczesny's crossbar.
Arsenal's play in the first half was very good, but it was still lacking a cutting edge. That cutting edge was provided in the second half by lifting the tempo, and the amount of chances created, and wasted, was noticeable. Theo Walcott had the best of the early opportunities, after being played through by a superb Abou Diaby through ball. After being pushed by Chico Flores, he was able to regain his composure and tried a dink of Michel Vorm that trickled just wide of the far post. It should've been a goal, though. Walcott had three other good chances to score. His first was cleared off the line by Danny Graham, and his second was a missed header from a Bacary Sagna cross that hit Vorm's post. Any nick from Walcott would've led to a goal, and although he nearly redeemed himself with a good shot from a superbly disguised Aaron Ramsey pass, he should've scored at least once tonight.
Olivier Giroud, too, had chances. Played in by Wilshere late, his right-footed shot from the middle of the box was tame and was easily saved by Vorm. His next chance was much better taken though, with a fearsomely struck shot from inside the box after a corner. Unfortunately for Giroud and Arsenal, it struck Jack Wilshere, standing in front of the Dutch keeper.
Arsenal were knocking on the door, though, and after Coquelin won the ball back, Cazorla fizzed a pass to Giroud, who turned it into a bouncing dink for Wilshere to smash home. And although the Gunners abandoned what had served them so well for 86 minutes, and stood off Swansea for the final minutes of the match, the Swans could not create anything, and Arsene Wenger could contemplate a fourth round tie against Brighton. First, though, is a trip to Stamford Bridge.