LIVE from The Emirates, North London
15:00 Hrs GMT, Dec 01 2012
In 1968, Arsenal traveled to Swansea City’s old stadium Vetch Field for their FA Cup 4th round clash, and came back as 1-0 winners. That day the ground held a record attendance of 32, 786 fans, much above the present capacity of Swansea’s Liberty Stadium. When Swansea travel to the Emirates, they will know, this is a totally different proposition, a massive stadium with almost twice the capacity and loads of history.
Arsenal, since then, have changed quite a few managers, Bertie Mee, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, being the notable candidates with a decent tenure in the job at North London. The Frenchman at the helm of things for one and a half decade at the club, has now reached a stage where he needs to prove himself to a lot of doubters all over again.
With fourteen games done, Arsenal sit quite uncomfortably at seventh place in the league, with Swansea, Stoke and West Ham very close to the Gunners. It hasn’t been a good season so far for the home team, but at some point they need to start winning games and make it an undefeated streak if they want to challenge for any honors this season. With a lot of games in December (eight) and players slowly reaching the ‘red zone’ already, Arsene Wenger will have to be at the peak of his tactical prowess to get through this month with accolades.
Swansea made a slow start to the season under new manager Michael Laudrup, but they have recovered well. The Swans are undefeated in their last six matches in all competition and they are back in contention for a place in the Europa League next season. Their good run of results started with a league cup victory over Liverpool away from home. They followed that up with a fantastic display against Chelsea as they held the reigning European Champions to a 1-1 draw.
In their last match, they defeated an in-form West Brom side 3-1. Wayne Routledge was in fantastic form in that match and the winger managed to score a brace. Swansea are currently a point and a place behind Arsenal. Michael Laudrup would hope that his team will continue their unbeaten run in this tough away fixture.
Over the last few seasons, Arsenal have had this kind of situation every season, wherein they have been under pressure and under-performing but each time, they have managed to come out of it with flying colors guaranteeing European places for them at the end of the season. This time around, the squad has a lot of quality but still misses key players in important positions. Olivier Giroud is the only ‘recognized’ striker in the entire squad. Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott are both capable of doing the thing but still they way off the requirement that a top striker needs when he plays in 4-2-3-1 formation. It is clear that Marouane Chamakh will be playing with cup football this season, perhaps his last one at the club.
Arsene needs to give Arshavin, Gnabry, Eisfield and more importantly, Oxlade-Chamberlain, more game-time if he doesn’t want to burn out his main squad players this December. As far as injury news is concerned, Bacary Sagna is sure to miss out with an inflammation in the leg, which he picked up in the last game. Laurent Koscielny, who was subbed off very early in the game against Everton, has a thigh problem, and is expected to be out for three weeks. Jenkinson, the absence of Sagna, is a very capable replacement at right-back. Mertesacker, the most ‘fair’ defender in the league this season, will pair with Vermaelen at the back, the two had a fantastic game at the Goodison. Gibbs will continue at left full-back.
With Rosicky back in the bench for the last game, there will now be some security for Santi Cazorla, but the Czech needs a few more reserve games before he can start pulling the strings in the middle of the park. Wilshere and Arteta will continue just ahead of the defensive four, both looked quite tired and off-the-game. With fixtures coming real quick this month, Arsene might be tempted to add Coquellin to the mix this weekend, we need to wait and watch.
Theo Walcott, who is clearly not going to sign a new contract, seems to be in the form of his life this season. There is a little complaint about his relatively less involvement in games though, but players like Theo operate in this fashion – few moments of brilliance. Podolski, who has been subbed in every league game this season, will play alongside the only striker in the squad, Giroud. The Frenchman has been a very busy player so far this season, and will look to continue his purple patch.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere; Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott; Giroud
The Swans have had a lot of injury concerns in recent times. Danny Graham is once again expected to miss out from the squad this weekend. The English striker has been affected by a ‘mystery illness’ (which has also reportedly affected two-three other squad members), although Graham was unlikely to start even if he was full fit as manager Michael Laudrup dropped the striker from the starting line-up before he got ill. Kyle Bartley, the man who joined from Arsenal this season, has recovered from his thigh injury and is available for selection.
Dutch international goalkeeper Michel Vorm is still 3-4 weeks away from returning to full fitness, while Neil Taylor remains the only other long-term injury concern. Midfielder Guzman, who was a doubtful in Swansea’s last match with a hamstring problem, seemed to have recovered well as he replaced Pablo Hernandez in the 75th minute of the match against West Brom. Striker Luke Moore has returned to full fitness as well.
Michael Laudrup, who took over from Brendan Rodgers this season, hasn’t changed Swansea’s style of play which made them so attractive last season. Although they were bit slow off the mark this season, they are currently on a fantastic run of form. Tactically Laudrup has stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation. But a lot of personnel in the squad have changed from Rodgers’ era.
In their last match against an in-form West Brom side, Swansea put up a wonderful display of possession football. Laudrup made some tactical changes in that match as he went in with three natural wingers. With Graham out of the game with illness, Laudrup has started with Itay Shechter in previous games, but in the match against West Brom he played Michu upfront. Guzman’s fitness was a concern in that match, hence Dyer started in his place. Hernandez played down the left, Dyer down the right, while Routledge played down in the middle in behind Michu. With three natural wingers exchanging their positions across the field, it was a nightmare for West Brom defense to deal with. The movement among the top four was exemplary.
However, with two matches in four days, Laudrup is sure to make changes to the starting eleven. Guzman is fit and will replace Dyer in the team sheet. In-form Routledge will move to the left, Hernandez to the right and Guzman will play behind Michu. The other reason to start with the Dutchman is the fact that he would add more defensive stability to the midfield.
Leon Britton is the more defensive of the double pivot that Swansea uses. Ki Sung-Yueng will push forward in support. Defensively, Swansea is expected to play a very high-line. With Arsenal playing similar style of football, Swansea will press hard to deny them any space. In their famous 3-2 victory over the Gunners last season, Swansea pressed them all over the pitch and Arsenal’s passing went awry. They will implement similar tactics once again. Britton will have the task of man marking Santi Cazorla, who is Arsenal’s most creative player.
With both teams playing a high-line, the midfield will be congested, and that where Swansea will have to use their wingers. Arsenal have looked vulnerable down their full-back areas and with Hernandez, Routledge and Dyer (on the bench), Swansea can cause problem for Gunners in the wide areas.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1) : Tremmel (GK); Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies; Britton, Sung-Yueng; Hernandez, Guzman, Routledge; Michu;
- Arsenal and Swansea have met six times in the league, with both sides winning three times each.
- Swansea have won just two of their last 10 Premier League away games (W2 D2 L6).
- Arsenal have conceded a league-high proportion of 71% of their goals in the first half of games this season.
- Michu has scored a league high four headed goals from just six headers on target this season.
- Only Gerhard Tremmel (85%) has a better saves to shots ratio this season than Wojciech Szczesny (81%) in the Premier League.
Player(s) To Watch Out For
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
“I think I scored 11 last season and 13 the year before. Not just that, but my general play [is getting better] as well. The assists are coming now, which is fantastic, and I am enjoying my football. I am very happy with the way I have started and it has got to continue. Hopefully I will take it into Saturday’s game.”
Theo looks quite happy on and off the pitch, so what is stopping him from signing a new contract, is what the fans and the manager would love to know.
Pablo Hernandez (Swansea)
The Spaniard was the big name signing for Swansea this season. Hernandez did take some time to settle down in the Premier league, but slowly but surely he is finding his feet. Swansea’s recent run of good form has coincided with improvement in Hernandez’s performance. But one feels that the Premier League is yet to see the best of former Valencia winger.
Hernandez is a big match player. Even from his days in the La Liga, he always had a knack in performing against the big teams. He did that against Chelsea this season, when he scored the equalizer in the dying minutes of the match. Against Arsenal he will be up for it once again.
Arsenal 3 – 1 Swansea
At home, Arsenal haven’t been completely dominating, but they will surely fancy themselves against a Swansea team which likes to attack more than defend. Even if they concede one, they will surely fire more than the visitors and pick all points this game.