Sunday, November 01, 2015

Three Things: Swansea City 0 Arsenal 3

Swansea City were the better team for most of the first half of their game against Arsenal Saturday at Liberty Stadium, but the old adage that failing to finish your chances will come back to haunt you was on full display as the Gunners dominated the second half and eased to a comfortable 3-0 victory in the end. Bafetimbis Gomis in particular will rue a great chance presented to him in the 21st minute when Jonjo Shelvey sent a beautiful through ball past Koscielny and Mertesacker. He dawdled one-on-one with Cech and ultimately lost the opportunity. Two others would come in the first half but neither was converted while Olivier Giroud flubbed a decent chance his own. Whatever Arsene Wenger said in the locker room at halftime had the intended effect, as Giroud scored four minutes into the restart, after wonderful movement in the box set him free on an Ozil corner and he buried it in the far post.

It was the 2,000th goal scored during Wenger’s reign and . The Gunners made it 2-0 on 68 minutes, as Koscielny bundled the ball home after a slight collision between Giroud and ex-Gunner goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski. The Swans called for a foul but it was not given and though maybe it should have been, it appeared to be an error by the Pole, the sort of error that has too often cost the Gunners games until that old Chelsea keeper ended up between the sticks this summer. The Gunners completed the rout when Joel Campbell scored five minutes later after a wonderful cross across the box by Ozil, his second assist of the game. With the victory, the Gunners stayed even on points with leaders City, picking up two points on United, who played out yet another dull 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.

Three Thoughts on the Game
1. Ozil & Giroud Critique Looks Increasingly Absurd: Last season, Alexis Sanchez and Coquelin rightfully earned most of the plaudits for a season that included a second FA Cup in succession and a third place finish in the league after an early injury crisis pushed the club to the brink of disaster in the first three months. Mesut Ozil continued to receive praise and criticism in almost equal measure, even as he led the league in chances created and chipped in with goals and assists throughout the campaign. It is hard to ignore the reality that he now has more assists than any other player in the league since joining the Gunners (22), including an incredible 9 assists and 1 goal in 10 EPL games and another assist in the Champions League. He is starting to dominate games like he did during his time at Real and seems more comfortable in close possession and thus improved in launching counters and taking advantage of the many Arsenal offensive threats. The same can be said of Giroud, who now has more headed goals since joining the Gunners than any other player in the BPL during that period and 10 goals in 13 games this term, with many coming in second half substitute appearances. Overall, the Frenchman has chipped in 47 league goals in 86 appearances, 8 more in the FA Cup (in 7 appearances), two in three League Cup appearances and 8 in 17 Champions League games. Those are not world-class numbers, but Giroud provides a goal every other game or so, chips in with excellent holdup and linkup play and is a far better defender in the box than most of the team, barring the back line. With Walcott out for a month or so, Ramsey and Ox as well and Welbeck not due back until December at the earliest, they will need these two to continue to perform at a high level.

2. The Mercurial Jonjo Shelvey: whenever I watch the ex-Liverpool midfielder play, I am generally impressed. He is a smart on the defensive end, cutting off attacks in and around the box, gets out fast on the counter, finds open players with clever passes and has a powerful shot from distance to keep keepers on their toes. He flies around the field and never seems to give less than 100 percent. While he has only registered 2 assist and no goals in 11 league games this year, there is a sense that some of that is down to the absence of Bony, or any reliable scorer, up front. In his career, he has scored 24 goals in 162 total league games adding 6 more goals in Cup and European competition. This season he has 1.9 key passes a game, playing in central or defensive midfield, completes 1.2 successful dribbles and 84.1 percent of his passes (on 60 average passes a game). Defensively, he has averaged 1.1 tackles, 1.8 interceptions and .9 clearances. After debuting for England back in 2012, he did not return until this year. While England certainly has some other options through the middle, I think he is a player to watch for the future, particularly since he has played for the country at every level and is still only 23 years old.

While Shelvey continues to impress, at least in patches, the Swans have not and Gary Monk is starting to feel the pressure after a great start to the season. Since beating United 2-1 on August 30, Swansea have lost to Watford, drew 0-0 with Everton, lost to Hull in the League Cup, lost 3-1 to Southampton, drew with Tottenham, lost to Stoke, beat lowly Aston Villa and then the 3-0 loss today. They play an often attractive brand of football, but are failing to put the ball in the net with consistent frequency and have serious defensive deficiencies, particularly on the counter. I would not be surprised to see Monk, who led the team to their highest finish ever last term, out before the season ends.

3. Title Run in the Offing? Many believed the Gunners were potential title contenders before this season began, particularly after Wenger finally got off the snide and beat his archrival Mourinho in the Community Shield. However, a sputtering start to the season led many to claim it was the “same ole Arsenal.” Victories over United, Bayern Munich and now Leicester and the Swans are starting to turn the narrative back toward a potential first title in 12 years. United might be talking of a title tilt themselves, but another tepid 0-0 draw leads one to believe they lack the finishing up front necessary to stay at the top of the league throughout an entire campaign. Talk of a Liverpool run seem a little premature as well, given their struggles up front and the potentially overblown 3-1 victory over Chelsea (after three straight draws) that included some luck and an opponent that is in complete shambles mentally and physically at the moment. And while City have the most expensive, most explosive and deepest squad in the league, they needed a late penalty to sneak by a Norwich team that has been struggling defensively most of the season. That arguably leaves City and Arsenal to fight it out for the title and it is hard to ignore the fact the Gunners have had some very positive results against a more dominant City over the past few years (forgoing the slaughter two seasons ago that derailed the last Gunners’ title chase). Even with two key players out, in Ramsey and Walcott, Arsenal found a way to win a tough road game they were struggling in throughout the first half. And that is exactly the sort of result Champions need. After a tough week that includes a trip to Bayern and a North London derby at the Emirates with a Tottenham team they have already beaten, the Gunners have a run of very winnable fixtures against West Brom, Norwich, Sunderland and Aston Villa, before a key December 21 matchup with City. If they continue to play like they have the past four games, ignoring the midweek Cup collapse full of youngsters and early injuries, they have a real shot at finally ending the long, long title drought.

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