Arsenal hold on after late Swans scare
Arsenal 3 Swansea City 2
This could have been the most one-sided game of Arsenal's season but ended up one of the nerviest. What was looking like an exhibition of Arsenal's skill became an examination of their mentality, one that they seriously threatened to fail.
And yet, at the end of it, they emerged exhausted 3-2 winners over Swansea City and second in the Premier League table to Man City only on goal difference.
Arsenal's players celebrated with weary relief. It did not help that there were only 10 of them, Granit Xhaka having been sent off for a cynical hack on Modou Barrow with 20 minutes left.
There were moments before Arsenal threatened to collapse when this looked like a new peak for them in terms of the quality of their fast attacking football.
From the very start, Arsenal were toying with Swansea and every time they went forward, they found an opening.
It was no surprise when Arsenal took the lead and while it owed to a Swansea mistake, that came after a brilliant move. Theo Walcott found Alexis Sanchez, who chipped a brilliant ball round the corner to Hector Bellerin, ferocious down the right for Arsenal. He headed the ball into the box, Jordi Amat tried to control it and Walcott forced himself into the situation, poking past Lukasz Fabianski.
Soon enough, it was 2-0, Walcott converting from close range after Jack Cork failed to clear a corner. The move that won that corner, though, was delightful: Walcott chipping over to Ozil, who found Bellerin, whose shot was saved by Fabianski. The threat of Bellerin, tearing down the right outside the equally-quick Walcott, is one to terrify every left-back in the country.
Arsenal gifted Swansea a goal just before the break, Xhaka supplying Gylfi Sigurdsson with the ball, but when Arsenal restarted, they were in the same mood. Ozil brilliantly volleyed in Sanchez's cross from the right and it was at that point, at 3-1, when it looked as if Arsenal could score as many goals as they wanted.
That complacency seemed to filter through to the players though and Swansea sensed an opening. They had struggled to hold off Arsenal in the first half but they always had a threat in Modou Barrow, their outstanding performer, who gave Nacho Monreal the hardest game he has had all season. Barrow continued to drive down the right and set up Swansea's second, pulling the ball back for Borja Baston to convert.
The next time Barrow burst down that side, Xhaka decided to intervene, tripping him from behind near the half-way line. It was as cynical a foul as will be committed all season. It would normally have been a yellow card, but John Moss decided to send Xhaka off and there could be few complaints.
Swansea smelled their moment and started to run at an Arsenal team who had briefly lost all composure. Barrow nearly made it 3-3 from a Kyle Naughton cross and Arsenal were forced to camp back in their box, digging in with a 4-4-1 formation, playing on the break. The last 15 minutes were hectic, as Petr Cech had to save from Leroy Fer and Federico Fernandez. And yet Arsenal, despite themselves, escaped with all three points. Maybe there is something different about them this year.
Sunday Indo Sport