Arsenal may be tired, they may be bruised, they may be beaten, and they may be in the midst of a roller coaster season but given the fact that the FA Cup is Arsenal’s best chance at a trophy this season I am expecting Arsenal to come out today and put the Swans through (at least) 90 minutes of, erm, Hell.
Ok, let’s face it, given the fact that Laudrup’s Swansea have spent the last three matches in their shell, coupled with their recent semi-success against Arsenal playing counter attacking football, and the fact that Arsenal just played a draining 10 v. 11 against C
helseaity this match probably won’t be a typical “FA Cup” tie. That is to say that rather than a lot of full-blooded tackles and pressing all over the pitch, we are probably looking at a more pacific match with one of the two teams dominating possession and the other trying to hit out on the counter.
Swansea are known for possession football but they have surprised everyone in the last three games by sitting back against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton, inviting pressure, and hitting them on the counter. They’re playing like the ugly ducking right now (surely someone has made this analogy?): they have faced 55 shots (20 on goal) and have responded with just 13 (8 on goal) shots of their own. Thanks to Michu and Graham, who have 2 goals each, the ugly ducklings have bloomed into swans and scored 50% of their shots on goal whilst only conceding 10%, both to the Arsenal.
Meanwhile, with Rosicky and Arteta injured Arsene has little choice but to start Cazorla and Diaby with Wilshere in midfield no matter how tired they all are after a draining match on Sunday. There is the “little choice” of starting Ramsey over Cazorla or Diaby but I’m not sure Wenger likes to mix up the midfield so much. Ramsey does have fresher legs and could be a surprise inclusion, possibly as a fourth midfielder, out wide, just to get on everyone’s pecs.
Up front, I fully expect Arsene to start Olivier Giroud. Or maybe I should say “I fully wish that Arsene would start Giroud”. Giroud can put a physical stamp on the match and has a good partnership in attack with Podolski and Walcott along side him. Let’s hope that his gash is healed because if Arsenal are going to play their typical pressing-deep-in-the-opposition-box style then he will add a different dimension to the attack. Yes, I know: gash, box, etc.
At the top of the article I was intentionally oblique saying that “one of the two teams would dominate possession with the other trying to hit out on the counter” because the more that I think about it, the more uncertain I am that Arsenal have the energy to play their normal possession hoarding style. Swansea, on the other hand, are on an extra day’s rest, have been playing very conservatively for three straight matches, and on a streak of 7 matches unbeaten. It will be interesting to see which team tries to deploy the rope-a-dope style, both of them can’t because at some point tonight’s match has to be won.
When Arsenal play high up the pitch they are prone to individual defensive errors or as I have put it, they play with 88 minutes of tedium and 2 minutes of terror. A reality that Swansea’s Spanish striker Michu has exploited successfully already this season. So, given the tired legs and the importance of the game as Arsenal’s last real chance at a trophy, is it even thinkable that Arsenal revert to the deeper defensive system they played in the first three matches of the season? That the Gunners tighten things up defensively and try to use Walcott’s pace to undo the Swans?
Regardless of what system they employ, I think Arsenal have the quality to go through to the next round and face Brighton on the shores of & Hove Albion.