Tag Archives: Swansea


Swansea exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses with a late game header

By Tim Todd, Early Game Specialist

Swansea came the Grove and took a huge gamble to play defense first against an in-form Arsenal side. But in the end their gamble paid a jackpot as took their chance and left Arsene Wenger and the collected Arsenal faithful bitterly disappointed.

There is a fallacy in football that defending first is easy. It’s not easy, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Defending first means that the players can’t make any mistakes. Since the defensive team is sitting deep in their own half, any mistakes that they make are compounded by a lack of space to recover and shift. So, the defensive team has to be extremely efficient in defense.

And when they get the ball in attack (which they always will), they have to also be extremely efficient in offense and exploit any chances the opposition presents. That was Garry Monk’s plan against Arsenal and that is exactly how they beat Arsenal.

Arsenal fans shouldn’t complain about this tactic either. Arsene Wenger adopted the defense first stance away to West Ham in December. Wenger conceded possession and beat the Hammers 2-1. And as much as we like to complain and cry “boring boring” Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea adopted this tactic time and again in big games and won the League. The big difference between Swansea playing defense first and Arsenal or Chelsea playing defense first is in quality.

Mourinho and Wenger can get away with the defense first tactic because they have the quality up front to exploit spaces and create big chances. It is easier to play defense first when you’ve got Cesc Fabregas pumping in long balls to Eden Hazard who is passing to Diego Costa. When you have quality players like Cazorla, Fabregas, Hazard Costa, and Alexis Sanchez the tactic looks more like you’re trying to win. But it’s a much different prospect when you’ve only got Jefferson Montero and Bafetembi Gomis. Which is what makes it such a gamble for Swansea to attempt.

That leads me to the second fallacy in football; defending first means you’re not trying to win: no one is telling the players not to shoot when they get the chance, no one looks disappointed when they score a goal, and no one is dressing down their teammates when they win the game. They are trying to win, they are just trying to win in the most efficient manner possible. And doing so with lesser quality players.

Wenger, though, after the game claimed exactly that:

We were unlucky I think against a team who refused to play completely and just defended. We couldn’t take advantage of it. They came just to defend with four defenders and six midfielders. If you win – fantastic, if you lose people say, ‘Why do you not play?’. They won so they are fantastic.

Garry Monk saw the result differently:

We could have come here and gone toe-to-toe but they could have hurt us. We didn’t have a fully fit striker. There are times you have to be adaptable. If people don’t like that it’s not my problem. The idea was to get to the last 20 minutes, still be in the game, make our substitutions and try to win.

Both managers are correct in their assessment of the match. Wenger is correct that Swansea came to defend first and that Arsenal couldn’t break them down: Arsenal only managed 5 shots in the first half and didn’t register a shot on goal until the 58th minute. That is simply not good enough. And when Arsenal did get a good shot, late in the game, Alexis and Walcott both struck tamely right at Fabianski. If they had shot the ball almost anywhere else, we would be telling a different story today.

Meanwhile, Monk is correct that if Swansea had tried to go toe-to-toe with Arsenal the Gunners probably would have won the game easily. So, he didn’t do that. Wouldn’t you have done the same thing?

In the aftermath of the match there are many people second-guessing Arsene’s substitutions and I suppose that, the obvious criticism, is warranted to some degree. Walcott for Giroud didn’t make any sense. Walcott is a runner, he needs space to run into in order to terrify defenders. Space in that match, with Swansea sitting so deep, was non-existent.

But for me, the biggest criticism of the match is that Arsenal have two weaknesses which managers are now publicly talking about. The first is that Arsenal lack fitness toward the end of games. Garry Monk isn’t the first manager to say that he wanted to get to the last 20 minutes of the match, Monaco’s manager, Leonardo Jardim, said something similar when he bragged “We knew that Arsenal were always strong in the first half – and a lot less in the second” after the French side beat the Gunners 3-1.

The second weakness is that Arsenal are susceptible to crosses and headers. Arsenal have now conceded 12 of their 34 goals allowed from headers. That’s the worst percentage (35%) of any team in the League. Wenger himself is even aware of the problem and in the post match presser stated:

We knew exactly what could happen. It was not even a break. We were warned of the kind of goal they could score with Montero kicking the ball in the air and we were short in jumping for the ball.

Koscielny has looked strangely uncertain in aerial duels this season and I wonder if his injury is still bothering him. Last season Arsenal allowed just 8 of 41 goals off headers and the season before just 6 of 37, so this season’s sudden increase is a bit worrying.

In the end, the result is especially painful because it means that Arsenal’s chances of finishing in second place are nearly out of our hands. It also makes next Sunday’s match against Man U a must win game. And as Arsenal fans have seen time and again, United will almost certainly “refuse to play completely and just defend”.

That’s entirely their right. It’s Arsene’s job to find a way to break that down.




Arsenal v. Swansea: from Flappy to Fab

By Tim Todd, Flapper

One of the funny things about writing an (almost) daily blog is that there are times when I have to dig deep to find something to write about and there are other times when I’m barely able to tread water in a flood of information. Today is the latter and I’ll just be honest and say that it’s awfully hard to focus on any one item to make a coherent blog.

Thankfully, I have such a great group of readers, who write such thoughtful comments, that I have decided to just list several of the possible topics and let you comment on them. I know, this seems like a cheat but I’ll comment on one at the end of the blog so that I contribute as well.

  • Previous meeting between the two clubs in November – Arsenal lost.
  • Arsenal lost and Calum Chambers was badly exposed by Montero dribbling around him time and again
  •   Sub topic: how much was Chambers exposed and how much was the team exposed for not helping him out?
  • Shortly after that match, Arsene started trying out Bellerin instead of Chambers, and has since settled on the young Spaniard, how much has his season been a stroke of luck for Arsenal?
  •   Sub topic: has Bellerin done enough to displace Debuchy for the starting role as Arsenal’s right back?
  • When Swansea beat Arsenal it was at the beginning of the second-worst run of the season. Arsenal had just dropped 3 goals to Anderlecht, then lost to Swansea, and then followed that up with a loss to Man U and a few weeks later the infamous loss to Stoke City where the fans waited for Wenger on the platform and barracked him with abuse. The club was listing and Wenger seemed to be searching for a way to right it. What did he do? Bonus points, don’t mention Coquelin because while I know many people believe everything in this team sport can be reduced to one man there were many changes Wenger made which galvanized the team plus the fact that the team finally started getting Wenger’s tactics right.
  • Will Arsenal win 2nd place? And think about the turnaround in Arsenal’s season, from the worst start in Wenger’s career to a realistic chance at 2nd place!
  • Alexis is on pace to break Henry’s Freshman goalscoring record, he just needs three goals in the last 5 games. What would it mean, if anything, for Alexis to score 27 goals in his first season at Arsenal?
  • Coquelin’s “bling bling” comment.
  • Arsenal conceded 9 headed goals in the first half of the season (Swansea’s Gomis scored one for the winner in the last meeting) and have only conceded 2 headed goals since January, HOW?
  • Wenger said that “Gabriel will be a great central defender” and that Arsenal don’t need to buy any more defenders this summer, do you agree?
  • And finally…

Today marks the return of Lukasz Fabianski, former Arsenal goalkeeper, FA Cup winner for the Gunners, and a player the fans used to call by the most groan-inducing nickname ever, “Flappyhandski”.

By all accounts Lukasz has been a smashing success at Swansea. He is currently the highest rated goalkeeper in England according to Squawka’s index and the Swansea manager, Garry Monk, sung his praises in his pre-match presser.

“Lukasz has been truly fantastic and when I made a decision on bringing a keeper in last summer I wanted someone who could play with his feet and have good distribution,” Monk said.

“Obviously, Fab has that but I also wanted someone who could command the box and be very confident as I was very conscious of the crossing element.

“We did a study last summer about how teams attack and what were their biggest weapons and crosses were at the top of the list.

“It wasn’t that he might come here and fail — I just wanted him to come here and continue to do it.

“I think you have seen from this season he continuously comes and tries to help his defence.

“He punches, catches and I can’t really remember him dropping a cross.

“But even if that did happen, he is the type of character who would continue to be confident.”

What Monk describes above, Fabianski’s ability to deal with crosses, is exactly the reason why he’s so highly rated on Squawka. Fabianski has claimed 171 crosses this season, 61 more than the next highest ‘keeper Robert Green, and has only failed to claim 3 times. He’s also made the third most punches of any ‘keeper with 27, has the third best clean sheet record with 12, has made the 2nd most saves with 106, and with this stellar season he has displaced Szczesny as Poland’s number one.

Garry Monk wasn’t patting himself on the back but he probably should. He took a player, on a free, who was considered surplus to requirements by Arsenal. He then studied how teams were attacking Swansea and trained that player to deal with that problem. And it’s been such a huge success that it’s fair to say he turned “Flappyhandski” into just plain “Fab.”

It’s a great story and nothing less than Fabianski deserves for the years he put in at Arsenal. He was made to wait his turn at Arsenal while the anointed one, Szczesny, was given every opportunity. Every opportunity that Szczesny has dropped, by the way. But Lukasz did his job, he won Arsenal an FA Cup, and without a bunch of fanfare, badge kissing, or letter writing he moved on to another job where he has exceeded all expectations.

I couldn’t be happier for him.

But what I wonder is why wasn’t he this good at Arsenal? Both Ospina and Szczesny have combined for 74 claims and 7 missed claims. Swansea play a similar style to Arsenal in that they play ball to feet and suffer from similar defensive problems (crosses), if this player was at Arsenal all along, why couldn’t Arsenal develop him?

I’ve heard it said that Arsenal’s ‘keeper coaching isn’t very good and up until now I’ve not had any real evidence to agree or disagree with that assertion. But with the emergence of Fab as the best ‘keeper in England, with many fans wanting a new ‘keeper at Arsenal this summer, and with Arsenal’s history of mediocre goalkeeping, I have to wonder if the problem isn’t the players but rather their coaching.

I don’t have an answer so I’ll leave that for Wenger to sort out, as he has done with everything else this season.

Right, the game’s on in a bit. See you here in the comments or on twitter. Check Arseblog News for my BTN piece later tonight.



“Air” Wilshere

Walking along, singing this song
Walking in a Wilshere wonderland

There’s a maxim in sports that great players make the others around them better. Like an alchemist of old, players like Michael Jordan can take lead weight like Luc Longley and Toni Kukoč and turn them into golden Champions. And while it’s easy to be accused of hyperbole after a single great performance, I still have to wonder if Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere is one of those great alchemists.

In the first half I was impressed by Arsenal’s workrate. They were first to nearly every ball and while it was a bit sloppy from an attacking point of view, the whole team kept getting “stuck in” and winning the ball back. That ethic was epitomized by Wilshere’s only foul of the game.

He had just coughed the ball up and after the Swansea tackler passed it off, Jack followed the pass and made a lunging tackle to try to win the ball back. It wasn’t a rash tackle and it wasn’t brutal, just a well timed, hard tackle, intended to stop Swansea from playing forward and give Jack a moment to look at his teammates. Referee Mark Clattenburg was forced to call the foul and Jack looked around at Diaby and Coquelin an gave them the “what’s up guys? Don’t leave me all alone in midfield or I will tackle YOU” look.

From that point on, Jack was almost never alone in midfield. When they didn’t have the ball, he and a teammate hunted in packs. When driving forward, he always had Coquelin or Cazorla near. He was ever present, always hustling to win the ball back, and almost never slowing the Arsenal attack down.

But if the first half was impressive from a hustle standpoint, the second half was so much better because Arsenal finally found another gear and started to get their attack together. Still tenacious in the midfield and defensive battles, Arsenal now were pulsing forward. Jack was in the mix for nearly everything good that Arsenal did. All simple passes, no Hollywood tricks, just take the ball, turn up field, find a teammate and get a shot. Arsenal were so direct in that second half that by the time the final whistle had gone, Arsenal tallied 25 shots, 15 on goal, 7 saved, 3 cleared off the line, and just the one goal.

This is an Arsenal side that averages 5 shots on goal per game. An Arsenal side that just a month and a half ago against the same opponents, in the same venue, lost 2-0 and only managed 10 shots. And while Stuart Robson was moaning on about how Swansea were tired because of their exhausting schedule, it was Arsenal who played on three day’s rest (to Swansea’s four) and had to play 80 minutes with just 10 men. Sorry, Stuart, Arsenal just wanted it more. Jack just wanted it more.

This is not to take anything away from his teammates. Bacary Sagna won nearly every header, Gibbs showed a strength in possession I haven’t seen from him too often, and Giroud was a beast up front, eventually getting his just deserts with the assist for Jack’s goal.

There could have been more goals from Arsenal, so many more. Giroud was a bit profligate, taking 9 shots and not getting on the scoresheet. Theo was wasteful too, at least three big chances went begging, though in his favor we have to say that Chico Flores’ push probably could have been a penalty and certainly put the Englishman off his stride.

Image via: http://ramseyholic.tumblr.com/

Image via: http://ramseyholic.tumblr.com/

There were also a few defensive lapses which, luckily, went unpunished. Graham made an excellent run to get behind Vermaelen and nearly opened the Swans account in the first half. And Sagna probably should have closed down on Tiendalli who had all the time in the world to orchestrate a perfect cross for Kyle Bartley’s header which fortunately crashed off the cross bar. But when you see such a tremendous performance from Arsenal all around, and an especially pulsating performance from Arsenal’s most famous academy graduate, it seems like crying over spilled milk to moan about any frailties in offense or defense.

Obviously, for Jack to be considered among the pantheon of greats like Jordan, he will have to win something. He has to will his team on to win things. Just one great performance driving his team forward and getting a win in the fifth round of the FA Cup isn’t enough to have his name etched in stone. But he’s just 21 years old, returning from a year and a half long injury nightmare, and surrounded by a team full of unfamiliar faces. I’d say in those circumstances, given the match I saw last night, it’s a good start.