Monday 18 December 2017

Arsenal survive attack of nerves to take full points

After Old Trafford, Arsenal might have adopted the mantra of the beleaguered: that things can only get better. It isn't true. They can always get worse, but in picking up their first win of the season yesterday, Arsenal will feel they are on the up. Unfortunately, apart from the three points, there was little evidence of it yesterday.

"It was vital for us to win the game," Arsene Wenger said later. "I think we started quite well but slowly the nerves took over and we played with a handbrake, restrictive. We just wanted to get over the line."

Andrey Arshavin got the goal that gave Wenger's side three points, but Swansea goalkeeper Michael Vorm granted him the opportunity with a dreadful error.

In the end, Arsenal were hanging on and conceding possession to a Swansea side who, as a newly promoted side, might have been expected to be stunned by their surroundings.

It will be some time before Arsenal's desperate dealings on deadline day can be judged, but Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta could be reasonably satisfied. Arteta has the touch to look at home at Arsenal. He started the afternoon setting Aaron Ramsey up for a simple chance, which he blasted over, and continued to use the ball excellently. As soon as he passes when he should have shot, he'll have grasped the Arsenal way.

Swansea's manager Brendan Rodgers sadly missed the game due to the death of his father. "He's been in contact all the time, but I've spoken to him and he's proud of the way the lads have played," Colin Pascoe, Rodgers' assistant said later.

Arsenal's defence probably needs working on, something that isn't Wenger's greatest strength. They relied on Wojciech Szczesny who came for every cross and made one superb save from Danny Graham. In injury-time, he came for one cross too many but Graham missed Swansea's best chance.

Swansea's defence might have been solid, but in the opening stages Arsenal's men coming from midfield were catching them out.

Theo Walcott should have scored when he picked up an Arshavin pass but Vorm got a touch to his chip and then Steven Caulker slid in on the line to clear.

Arsenal weren't as well-drilled, they seemed unaware of Mertesacker's presence, aiming corners at Ramsey and Walcott.

In the second half, Walcott picked up a booking for a tackle on Neil Taylor, part of what appears to be a new tough-man act, an act which would be more convincing if he headed the ball when it came near him rather than stand watching it.

Swansea soon began to realise they had nothing to fear. As the game went on, they had more possession but Graham again was close when three of the Arsenal back four missed a Taylor cross. Graham missed it too and Gibbs knocked it out for a corner.

Swansea were looking confident but then Vorm made his error.

Having stopped a deflected shot going for a corner, he tried to start a counter-attack, a strange decision five minutes before half-time.

He threw the ball out but it hit Angel Rangel who was standing a few yards in front of him. The ball landed at Arshavin's feet. He knew he had a gift and he wasn't going to waste it, sweeping the ball into the empty goal.

It was an indication of the work that needs to be done on this Arsenal side that the goal did nothing for their confidence.

Swansea came out for the second half having absorbed more lessons from the first than Arsenal. Scott Sinclair drove a free-kick off the bar and Swansea kept playing, finding space on the flanks as Arsenal looked lost.

Robin van Persie did go close on a couple of occasions, shaving the post with one right-footed shot, but Arsenal played with diminishing purpose as the game went on. By the end, they were nearly pleading for the whistle.

In injury-time, Szczesny came for a corner but missed his punch when challenged by Caulker. Graham put the chance over from six yards.

Arsenal have another test in Dortmund on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Swansea had possession but they have yet to score in the Premier League. Arsenal's search for leaders became comical when Van Persie was replaced by Marouane Chamakh. Chamakh tried to hand the captain's armband to somebody else but couldn't spot a suitable candidate.

"I told him to keep it," Wenger said, before he was asked who the vice-captain was. "Vermaelen, but he's in the hospital so he's difficult to find."

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