Arsenal put in an archetypal Jekyll-and-Hyde performance against Swansea to eke out their sixth league win in a row.
The Gunners twice enjoyed a two-goal cushion but let the visitors back into the game through rudimentary errors and reckless tackles, seeing off a Swansea barrage in the last twenty minutes to retain their slender lead and emerge victorious.
Arsene Wenger stuck with his tried and tested winning combination, picking the same side that dug out a last-gasp win against Burnley two weeks ago. Petr Cech started in goal and the Koscielny-Mustafi pairing manned the center of defense with Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal stationed on the flanks. Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla formed the midfield axis, with Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott, and Alexis Sanchez essaying free roles as a front four.
Even though most of their players had just returned from taxing international matches, Arsenal started the game with vim and vigor, pressing Swansea into mistakes and passing the ball with slick alacrity. But barring an Ozil scuffed shot, a few close offside calls, and a Mustafi header that grazed the bar, Arsenal didn’t trouble Swansea keeper Fabianski. In fact, the best chance of the opening twenty minutes fell to the away side as Leroy Fer blazed over the bar after being left free in the box.
With Swansea so defensively disciplined in the opening exchanges, new boss Bob Bradley would have been crestfallen to see them concede two goals after avoidable mistakes. First, a quick interchange of passes between Iwobi, Walcott, and Sanchez set Bellerin free in the box, and his header across goal was ineffectively shepherded by Amat as Walcott stole in to score. Six minutes later, Fernandez tried to clear an Arsenal corner, but his stopping header met air instead of leather. The ball broke to Walcott, who swiveled on a penny and swept home his fifth league goal of the season.
Just when it looked like Arsenal were taking this game out of sight, lax play at the back let Swansea back into it. The Gunners’ tippy-tappy passes on the edge of their own box seemed borne out of excessive comfort, and when Xhaka lost the ball, Sigurdsson meted out maximum punishment by curling a fine shot past a static Cech. Amat could have heaped further misery on the hosts, but his header on the stroke of half time was straight at the Arsenal keeper. The Swans entered the break trailing 2-1, the numbers on the scoreboard closer than the play on the pitch.
Just like the first half, Arsenal started the second period on the ascendancy. Iwobi went on a jinky, mazy run, nutmegging defenders for fun, before Walcott contrived to place his shot straight at the keeper. A few minutes later, some quick switching of play found Sanchez on the ball outside the box. The Chilean noticed Ozil make a dart in the area and giftwrapped the perfect cross for the birthday boy to volley home majestically.
In a surreal reprisal of the first half, Arsenal once again opened the back door for Swansea after taking a two goal lead. Barrow roasted Monreal on the flank before playing a pass that split the Arsenal center backs and allowed Borja to slide home. While Swansea’s first goal majorly stemmed from an individual mistake, there were a litany of little ones on show here: Iwobi didn’t track back, Xhaka and Mustafi left their markers, and Monreal was skinned for pace.
What was poised to be a slightly nervy final twenty minutes entered anxiety armageddon when the referee brandished a red card after Xhaka committed a professional foul to stop a Swansea break. Both real-time and slow-motion looks at the foul pointed to the harshness of the decision, but it stood and Arsenal had to brave a swan-storm in the closing stages.
Rather than receding into a compact shell after losing a man, Arsenal continued to give Swansea sniffs at goal. Fer shot over the bar from a corner. Barrow headed a golden chance straight at Cech. Sigurdsson leaned back and shot over after being fed by more excellent work by Barrow. The final two minutes saw two more headers tamely find their way to Cech, first from Fer and then from Borja.
For all their defensive laxity, Arsenal had multiple chances to put the game to bed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on as a late substitute, twice burnt up the Emirates grass on the wings and passed to Walcott, whose first miss was agonizing and second infuriating. The hodgepodge of misses was finally brought to an end with the referee’s whistle, Arsenal deservedly shading the game but not making an easy task of it at all.
The Gunners now prepare for a Champions League home game against dark horses Ludogorets. Arsene Wenger will be looking to rest some first-teamers and give fringe players a run-out in a bid to keep his squad fresh. Bob Bradley should be encouraged by this Swansea display, and with a horrible run of fixtures now behind the team, he will be hoping for a positive result against Watford next week.