Thursday 22 March 2018

Gunners show mettle to come from behind and slay Swansea bogeymen

Arsenal 2 Swansea City 1

Aaron Ramsey celebrates his winner. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Aaron Ramsey celebrates his winner. Photo: Nigel French/PA

David Hytner

Swansea City have been a bogey team for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. On six previous Premier League visits, they had won three and drawn one and, when Sam Clucas put them in front early on, it seemed that a long afternoon lay ahead for Arsène Wenger and his players.

The nerves jangled among the home supporters during the first half and, but for a one-on-one block from Petr Cech that denied Jordan Ayew, Swansea would have been two goals up at the break.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action with Swansea City's Mike van der Hoorn. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in action with Swansea City's Mike van der Hoorn. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

The Cech save would prove to be the turning point because Arsenal were a team transformed in the second half. Inspired by Sead Kolasinac, who was a rampaging presence on the left, they were comfortable winners in the end and what Wenger described beforehand as the club's "impeccable" home record this season would be preserved. It is now eight wins out of eight in all competitions - five of them in the Premier League.

Kolasinac scored the equaliser with a bullet of a drive, then got the assist for Aaron Ramsey's winner. After their slips at Liverpool, Stoke City and Watford, Wenger knew that there was no margin for error. He could luxuriate in a fine second-half performance. Next up are Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

Swansea arrived in London with a question mark at left-back. With Martin Olsson, the club's only specialist in the position, out with hamstring trouble, who would play there? Paul Clement turned to Clucas, asking him to play in a left wing-back role for the first time, and there would be a stunning dividend.

Swansea had barely crossed halfway in the game's opening quarter but when Laurent Koscielny took a heavy touch as he attempted to control a pass, then slipped over, Tammy Abraham scented blood. The on-loan Chelsea striker spotted Clucas making a run in behind Hector Bellerin, and he found him with slide-rule precision.

Arsenal's Hector Bellerin battles for the ball with Swansea City’s Samuel Clucas. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters
Arsenal's Hector Bellerin battles for the ball with Swansea City’s Samuel Clucas. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

Clucas was in, one-on-one with Cech, and he finished low and left-footed. His first goal in Swansea colours. The Emirates sighed.

Swansea have been the toughest of nuts to crack on their travels and the game was now set for their counterattacking approach, with the pace of Abraham and Ayew always likely to worry Per Mertesacker.

Swansea ought to have been further in front at the interval. Mertesacker got himself into an almighty mess in stoppage time after a bad touch inside his own area and he was robbed by Ayew. As Mertesacker toppled over like a felled oak, Ayew had only Cech to beat. But goalkeeper made himself big to block.

The visitors had other first-half flickers, with Ki Sung-Yeung almost getting Ayew in between Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal, and Abraham isolating himself one-versus-one against Mertesacker. The Arsenal man won that duel.

Arsenal's big moment of the first half came on 41 minutes when Alexis Sánchez played a give-and-go with Kolasinac, dropped his shoulder and cracked in a right-footed shot. Lukasz Fabianski, the former Arsenal goalkeeper, threw out a hand to tip over.

That apart, it was clear that Arsenal had to do better. Much better. Wenger had called beforehand for pace in their passing, for positivity, but what he got in the first half was a long way from that. His team were ponderous and nobody seemed to want to take the responsibility. They were booed off at half-time.

Whatever Wenger said during the break had the desired effect. He sent his players out early and they were into their stride straight away. Kolasinac's goal came after Alexandre Lacazette dug out a smart backheel in traffic and Mesut Özil smuggled the ball on. The Bosnian had a long run at the breaking ball and he thumped it into the far corner. Fabianski got a hand to the shot but he was merely stung by its force.

Abraham had the ball in the net immediately afterwards only to be pulled back for offside but Arsenal could feel that the shackles had loosened. Koscielny fluffed a free header from a Sánchez free-kick before Kolasinac teed up Ramsey for Arsenal's second. Not for the first time, Granit Xhaka spread the play with a raking pass and Kolasinac put plenty of pace into his cutback, which Ramsey harnessed with his first-time shot. Again, Fabianski got something to it but not enough.

The Emirates could relax. Ramsey shot high, Lacazette worked Fabianski, Bellerin hooked a shot up and against the crossbar and substitute Olivier Giroud went close on two occasions. Swansea never threatened the equaliser.


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