Arsenal have had their struggles with Swansea City over the past few seasons, blowing leads in a couple of key matchups that helped scupper their title challenges in the past. With the Gunners form uneven over the past few weeks and the Swans seemingly revitalized by the hire of Paul Clement, some pundits actually picked Swansea to pull off another scalping of Arsenal. For the first 20 minutes, it looked like they might, as the Gunners looked flat as the Swans were soaring.
However, Swansea had shipped 45 goals in 20 games this season and when Giroud finally broke the deadlock in the 37th minute, finishing off a move that benefitted from a misdirected clearance and Ozil’s fourth league assist of the season, the Gunners were off and running. Iwobi was the instigator of the next two goals, both careening off Swan’s defenders and into the net (off of Jack Cork in the 54th minute and Kyle Naughton in the 67th). Sanchez then finished the scoring in the 73rd, again benefitting from a misdirected clearance and carom.
Three thoughts on the game:
1. Giroud and Sanchez Continue to Shine: after several late goals to garner wins or salvage draws for his side, Giroud scored the first of this game in the 37th minute, finishing smartly after Ozil poked the ball forward to him from the middle of the box after the first of four fortuitous deflections. That makes 11 goals in his last 9 league starts (with at least one in each) and 5 in his last 5 appearances. He left the game in the second half with a knock that Wenger hopes is not too serious, as the Frenchman has taken the competition for a starting berth to heart, playing some of his best football since arriving at Arsenal.
On the other hand, the unsettled Sanchez appears disgruntled after again being consigned to the left side of the pitch after a hot start through the center. Luckily, it has not adversely affected his drive and productivity, as he equaled Costa’s lead at the top of scoring chart with Arsenal’s fourth, slotting past ex-Gunner Fabianski for his 14th of the campaign. That was followed, in the 79th minute, by a major sulk after Wenger took him off to give Welbeck his first league appearance in 10 months. Sanchez could be pushing for an exit this summer, but if he wants to help the side keep pushing for the title, he really needs to grow up.
2. Iwobi Shaping into a Key Contributor: Arsenal bossed 57 percent of possession after a shaky start, finally ending a winless run on the road, even as Swansea were able to almost match their 14 shots with 12 of their own. Youngster Alex Iwobi had a lot to do with their success, the impetus for both of the Swans own goals and unlucky not to get one for himself. He is maturing before our eyes, as he improves in and around the box, his poise and decision-making markedly improved from earlier in the season. In 20 starts and 6 sub appearances across four competitions, Iwobi has a mere three goals and three assists, but he is contributing substantially more in the buildup to many of the 48 goals Arsenal have scored in the league, only one behind leaders Liverpool. Earlier in the season, Iwobi often lost his composure in attack, particularly on the break, missing an open man or shooting wildly with a good chance to score. Now he is picking out those passes a lot more often and serving as a good backup to Ozil at the #10 while contributing from the wing when the German starts. With Ozil short of the assists he was piling up until the second half of last season, Iwobi has become an essential cog in the Arsenal attacking machine.
3. Around the Horn: It was a relatively good weekend for the Gunners, picking up points on all of their main competitors for the Top 4 except Tottenham and league-leading Chelsea. Earlier Sunday, City, who can’t seem to maintain any consistency from week to week were absolutely pummeled by Everton 4-0. They actually started the game the better side, but Everton played on the counter to great effect while defending excellently, giving Guardiola the worst league loss of his storied career. That loss coupled with United settling for a 1-1 home draw with Liverpool, after Ibrahimovic again came to the rescue with a late equalizing header, leaves the two Manchester clubs on the outside looking in, at least for a week. Arsenal’s three points pushed them to fourth, even on points with Liverpool and a mere point behind a Tottenham side the cruised past West Brom 4-0 on Saturday.
There was hope among the chasers that Chelsea might suffer in the absence of their own unsettled star, Diego Costa, but Chelsea dismantled the Cinderella champions of last season 3-0 in the end. For Leicester, it was their 10th loss in the first 21 games of the season, against only 5 wins and 6 draws, and while they are on to the Round of 16 in the Champions League after winning their group, they will have to string together some wins to ensure they are still in the Premier League next season.
At the bottom, Hull beat Bournemouth 3-1 while Sunderland lost to an up and down Stoke by the same score, leaving Sunderland and Swansea tied in the cellar and Hull a point above them, only separated from the sinking Crystal Palace by goal difference (though a sizable -15 differential). Middlesboro sit 4 points above the duo and Leicester a mere 5. As we enter the final 17 games of the season, it appears to the battle at the bottom could be as compelling as that at the top, with Chelsea facing off against their nearest competitors in February and March while the bottom six still have plenty of matchups to decide their collective fate.