Liberty Stadium, Swansea
March 16, 2013; 15:00 GMT
The last time Arsenal FC travelled to the Liberty Stadium for a league match, both the teams served up a high scoring match. Danny Graham scored the winner for Swansea, which ended 3-2. Interestingly, eight of the players who started that day for Swansea and Arsenal are no longer part of the squad (either being sold or on loan).
Both these sides have travelled in opposite directions it would seem – while Swansea have improved by leaps and bounds, Arsenal according to many have their weakest squad in years. Swansea is perhaps enjoying their most successful campaign in recent history. The Wales club is currently 9th in the table and only five points behind 6th placed Liverpool. They also won the League Cup trophy for the first time in their history, which also means there will be European football at the Liberty Stadium next season. In another important development, they have also managed to secure the future of their current manager Michael Laudrup, despite interests from big European clubs, which augurs well for the future.
Arsenal on the other hand are heading towards another trophyless season after their recent exit from the Champions League. But they can take heart from their wonderful performance against Bayern Munich – they showed character and heart. It was also perhaps their best defensive performance this season, something on which they can build upon as they look to finish the season strongly. They are currently fifth in the league and seven points behind Spurs with a game in hand. Qualifying for the Champions League is of utmost important for the Gunners as they look to rebuild their squad in the summer – it would be hard to attract big names without European football next season.
Arsenal have lost only one of their last six games in the Premier League, but it was a big loss since it came against arch rivals Tottenham and could yet have a significant impact in the race for the Champions League qualification race come the end of the season. Swansea, like Arsenal, are also coming into this match on the back of a league defeat at the hands of West Bromwich Albion.
Team News & Tactics
Swansea have quite a lot of fitness concerns at this moment. Luke Moore is set to be available once again after getting over his calf injury, but midfielder Leon Britton will undergo a late fitness test before the match to see if he has recovered from the hip injury he picked up against Newcastle. Agustien and defender Flores remains unavailable due to ankle injuries, the duo is expected to back in the squad in another two weeks’ time. Left-back Neil Taylor has returned to the set-up after appearing for the youth team, but it will be another two weeks before he returns to the first team.
Michael Laudrup is expected to field the same starting eleven from last weekend’s match against West Brom. Britton’s injury has forced Laudrup to change his system. He has replaced Britton with Ki, alongside Guzman in front of the defence. While Ki is good in possession of the ball and spreading it around, he doesn’t provide the same defensive cover as Britton used to do. Moreover, he dropped Dyer from the starting line-up against West Brom and instead fielded two strikers with Luke Moore and Michu upfront.
While he has tried to retain his shape of 4-2-3-1 and has asked Michu to drop deep in behind Moore to maintain the balance, the Spaniard’s forward movement has often left Swansea a man short in the midfield and since neither Ki nor Guzman are natural ball winners, Swansea struggled to contain West Brom’s midfield.
The predicament that Laudrup faces now is that Moore has scored two goals in his last two games, making it hard for Laudrup to drop with him or Michu from the starting line-up, which means Swansea’s system natural shifts towards a 4-4-2 formation, but since Hernandez and Routledge plays so high up the pitch, it leaves gaps for the opponent to exploit. Laudrup might well ask Hernandez and Routledge to drop deep against Arsenal, but this once again emphasizes Britton’s importance to the Swansea line-up. The other option remains putting Dyer back into the line-up, who is also good at closing down opponents at pace and could be helpful in preventing Arsenal building up attacks from the back.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Vorm (GK); Rangel, Monk, Williams, Davies; Guzman, Ki; Hernandez, Michu, Routledge; Moore
Arsenal, like Swansea have few injury concerns of their own. Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski and Bacary Sagna remains on the sidelines with injuries. The trio are expected to return at the end of this month – and the Gunners will be thankful for the international break during this period which means the trio will miss only one game during that period.
Goalkeeper Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen are expected to be back in contention for a starting line-up slot with Arsene Wenger insisting that the duo are still vital to the squad following speculations about their future. Given the excellent performance of the defence and Fabianski at Munich, Arsene Wenger shouldn’t ideally change the back-five. But given that Arsenal are coming into this match after a mid-week clash might force him to make these changes. Nacho Monreal will feature once again in place of Gibbs at the left-back, with Diaby starting in place of Ramsey. One can also see Gervinho back in the starting line-up in place of Rosicky, who didn’t seem to be at his best against Bayern.
Gervinho’s inclusion will mean Cazorla will be back to his role behind the striker – a position from where he seems to be most effective. The Spaniard is the most creative midfielder in the Arsenal squad and he seems to be wasted out wide. Against Bayern, Arsenal couldn’t get him on the ball often enough as Ramsey, Arteta and Rosicky gave the ball away far too often. Wenger will certainly hope his teams retain the possession much better against Swansea as the Wales side are excellently efficient on counter-attacks.
It would be interesting to see if Arsenal are back to holding a high-line against Swansea – something which has looked like suicidal at times this season. Against Bayern the most important change was that the back four dropped deep whenever Arsenal lost possession, something they haven’t done the rest of the season. With someone like Mertesacker in the line-up it is very important and logical for Arsenal defenders to hold a deep line – specially against a team like Swansea, who have lot of pace among the attackers and are excellent at running in-behind defences.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Fabianski(GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Arteta, Diaby; Walcott, Cazorla, Gervinho; Giroud
- This will be the fourth competitive meeting between Arsenal and Swansea already this season, with both teams having a W1 D1 L1 record.
- Michu has scored three of Swansea’s four goals against Arsenal this season.
- Arsenal have averaged 58.5% possession this season, higher than any other team (Swansea are sixth – 55.6%).
- Swansea are looking to win four Premier League home games in a row for the first time.
- Six of the seven goals scored in games between Arsenal and Swansea this season have come in the closing 10 minutes.
Player To Watch Out For
Michu (Swansea City)
Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie have scored 22 and 19 goals this season respectively (in the league) – something which shouldn’t really surprise anyone considering the amount of money Liverpool and United spent for them. But when you look down the table of top goal scorers – the name that is fourth on the list with 15 goals might surprise you considering he was brought for £2 million from a Spanish side who were only recently promoted to the La Liga. Michu in many ways has perhaps been the signing of the season so far at least none of the players can come close to when the decision is based on ‘value for money’. The 26-year-old also seems to like playing against the Arsenal defence (who doesn’t?) and has scored three of the four goals that Swansea have scored against the Gunners this season.
Swansea City 1 – 2 Arsenal
Arsenal have lost one and drawn one in their last two visits to the Liberty Stadium. But their win against Bayern in the second leg should have boosted their confidence and the Gunners should use it to catapult themselves back into the hunt for fourth spot, staving off Tottenham and Chelsea in the league. The match certainly holds more importance for Arsenal since Swansea really don’t have much to play for in the league as they have nearly guaranteed themselves a place in the top half of the table and have already qualified for the Europa League. It will be a close game, but the Gunners should come out on top in the end.