Coming off the back of two disappointing away games The Arsenal returned home to Ashburton Grove to face a Laudrup led Swansea side, brimming with confidence after their win over West Bromwich, the surprise package of the 2012/13 season.
A hard working Swansea full of energy and dynamic passing rode out some periods of pressure to score twice as Arsenal pushed for a winner late on to leave the stadium ringing to a chorus of boos at the final whistle.
Prior to the game the Black Scarf/Red Action “walk” (not “March”) had started from Blackstock Road and appeared to consist of around 500 people, with the mood being set by songs such as “Rocky, Rocky Rocky”; “You are my Arsenal”; “I’m Arsenal till I’m skint” and “We all follow the Arsenal”, with some less positive chants (“Sack the board”) mixed in also.
As for if the march will have made any difference time will only tell.
Turning to the actual game it was played on a crisp, cold afternoon when it felt that soon autumn would segue into winter.
The Arsenal kicked off towards me in the Clock End, passing with certainty if not confidence led by Gervinho, the Pod and Theo as the attacking three of the midfield, with Arteta, Cazorla and Jack behind them. The defence picked itself due to injury, Jenkinson, BFG, Vermaelen and Gibbs.
The Swansea support was not the loudest I’d seen, certainly not for the first 85 minutes, and they looked non-descript and not much like a bunch of identifiable away fans as their team colours were largely absent from the blocks of away support.
The first half was cagey with both sides appearing to have a few attacking opportunities but no definite chances; Swansea seemed highly motivated whereas Arsenal seemed to be labouring to make possession count. The only Swansea players to stand out were there number 6, with a Kolo Toure sized backside and the pocket sized Dyer, who made Cazorla look lanky.
As one would expect Arsenal did make the effort to press and were rewarded with some corners which largely amounted to little.
Gervinho’s lack of confidence showed in a first half where he couldn’t make anything work for him, one of his attempts on target went so wide that it almost went for a throw in till it was retrieved by Theo, one of the few Arsenal forwards playing with urgency. The Ivorian seemed a player bereft of confidence in his ability to skin the full back.
As the shots did start to go in the Swans keeper began to look very assured in goal and you got the nagging feeling that when Arsenal did finds their shooting boots, he would go on to deny us.
When Theo ran onto a difficult looped ball and failed to control it I heard a shriek of “Oh for eff’s sake, what are you doing?!” when in reality it was a very tricky ball to control with your thigh while running at speed. This could be the sort of attitude that’ll make a player wavering on a decision whether to stay or not decide not to hang around.
The worst case scenario of going into the break one down was avoided and the crowd was satisfactory at half time, during which time I noticed a supporters banner from Maryland.
Arsenal started the second half with more urgency, however a number of potential penalty claims were not given by Clattenburg (leading to the inevitable Chelsea inspired shouts of “You racist!”) while a firmly planted, goal bound Vermaelen header and a Cazorla volley were saved by the keeper, who was by now performing (predictably) like Superman between the sticks.
At this stage the crowd were still firmly behind the team and doing their best to push them on to score.
Swansea dealt with this phase of Arsenal attacking play and then began to press Arsenal back and get a few corners of their own.
As your humble scribe was near the corner flag, when Swansea were awarded a corner I made sure I engaged in some barracking of their corner taker (the Korean “KI”) and this had the desired effect as he duly muffed it, failing to clear the near post. That was a small victory on the day but is part of what home advantage should be all about – put off the opposition, don’t just groan when one of our passes is misplaced.
As Arsenal’s attacking intent petered out it dawned on me that not only were the players short of confidence, but it seemed they themselves were aware there was no one they could look to conjure up a moment of magic. There would be no Fabregas to curl in a delicious pass, no Van Judas to shoot on goal from out of nowhere. For some reason Arsenal seemed to be performing as a team less than the sum of its parts – we have good players yet as a unit they are underperforming.
The team looked like they didn’t believe they would win, a feeling Swansea latched onto when Arsenal’s desperation to push forward opened up gaps at the back.
Chesney had already made a fair number of decent stops to keep the scores level but a simple pass split the centre back pairing and the lumbering Michu finished with an assassin’s clinical efficiency. The home support were stunned and for the first time some noise finally came from the away end as the Swansea technical area was also awash with leaping celebrations.
Arsenal then restarted and desperately tried to push for an equaliser but as the game stretched, the hitherto (largely) faultless Jenkinson was caught in possession then the ball was deflected into the path of Michu, who had all the time in the world to lift his shot over Chesney.
Two nil and the shouts of discontent started from the Arsenal supporters. Chesney then smashed the ball into the top tier behind the goal in frustration, and got a warning from Clattenburg for his troubles; the loss was not his fault today and his anger showed he cared.
Just like on the BSM walk/march the shouts of “Sack the board” and “Ivan, what the eff do you do?” could be heard, which were then drowned out by the booing at the final whistle, something unheard in the normally sedate family enclosure where I was located, but felt like was being echoed all over the stadium .
Significant sections of the home crowd stayed to shout their discontent at the final whistle and that has not happened before as far as I can remember.
The Swansea support formed a stark contrast with the supporters of the team I saw on my previous trip to Ashburton Grove: Schalke 04. In their 2 nil win they showed a quiet dignity.
The Swansea supporters however decided to goad disappointed Gooners into a reaction after the match, in the queues for the tube stations and around the environs of the stadium.
To our credit no Gooner responded to the provocation as our support has too much class to get involved in skirmishes like the ones the Swansea supporters were trying to provoke; additionally the 100’s of us who stayed to clap the Swansea team off the pitch, as they had clearly played better than us, is what being a true football fan means.
No triumphalist gloating in the faces of the opposition fans after a win and recognising good play when it comes from the opponents. Add that to the lack of much singing until the late goals and Swansea’s fans were a long way behind Schalke’s in my estimation.
One can only hope the powers that be take this worrying decline in our team into account and the necessary squad adjustments are made in January or else I fear worse is to come.
We may have a top stadium but the team playing in it needs help.
On twitter and Youtube @charybdis1966