Saturday 21 April 2018

Gunners make light of injury crisis to underline their title credentials

Swansea 0 Arsenal 3

Arsenal's Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell (R) celebrates with Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla
Arsenal's Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell (R) celebrates with Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla
Jefferson Montero (C) of Swansea City competes for the ball against Joel Campbell (L) and Hector Bellerin (R) of Arsenal

Paul Doyle

Arsenal's title challenger costume is looking more and more convincing. It is true that this result could have been different if debatable decisions by referee Kevin Friend had not gone in their favour, but ultimately Arsene Wenger's men returned as comfortable winners from a trip that was as much a test of the strength of their character as of their squad.

Wenger's team were beaten twice by Swansea last season and gaining vengeance, especially amid an injury crisis, is the sort of achievement that gives credence to suggestions that Arsenal may finally have the gumption to become champions. It was also a fine way to banish memories of that feeble midweek elimination from the League Cup by Sheffield Wednesday.

Only four of the players who began that non-performance were included in the starting line-up here, one of them being Joel Campbell, who, owing to accumulated casualties on the right-hand side of Arsenal's midfield, was making his full Premier League debut four years after joining the club. The Costa Rican did well and even completed the scoring with a crisp finish in the 73rd minute. Olivier Giroud had scored the first early in the second half before Laurent Koscielny plundered a controversial second.

Although they finished strongly, it took Arsenal a while to get going, especially offensively. Campbell, indeed, was perhaps the visitors' most dynamic forward player in a first half in which the most impressive thing about the visitors' attackers, especially Mesut Ozil, was the uncanny exactness of their Invisible Man outfits. But Arsenal were patient and strong.

The early exchanges were cautious, each side taking it in turns to file diligently back and see what sort of moves the other could put together. At times it was more like a dance-off than a football match. But soon Garry Monk's side, consisting of the same players who ended a five-game winless streak by beating Aston Villa last week, showed some menace - and devastating speed, with Jefferson Montero several times pulling off the improbable feat of making Hector Bellerin seem slow. But Koscielny usually cut out the winger's ensuing crosses.

Campbell was the first to threaten for Arsenal, curling a respectable effort wide after the ball broke to him on the edge of the area. In the 22nd minute, however, the Costa Rican showed his unfamiliarity with the pace of the Premier League when his dawdling played Bafetimbi Gomis onside and allowed the striker to receive an excellent through-ball from Jonjo Shelvey, who had treated Ozil's poor imitation of a tackle with the disdain it deserved. Gomis now only had Petr Cech to beat but he hoped the goalkeeper would tell him how: Cech, however, is far too wily for that and stood his ground, leaving the striker to confuse only himself as he belatedly tried to shimmy past his opponent. As Gomis fell desperately to the ground and the crowd howled for a penalty, Bellerin charged back to clear.

Alexis Sanchez, almost as inconspicuous as Ozil in the first half, came to the fore in the 29th minute, pinging an incisive pass to Giroud, who showed casual rather than killer instincts as he nonchalantly slotted the ball over the bar from 16 yards. Moments later Bellerin and Campbell teamed up to chop down Montero, seemingly the only way the could stop the marauding winger. Per Mertesacker stopped the resultant free-kick by Gylfi Sigurdsson with his arm, but the referee either missed it or deemed it unintentional. No penalty, ruled Friend.

From Sanchez's second cutting pass of the game, Campbell fired in Arsenal's first shot on target, a decent long-range effort that Lukasz Fabianski held. Monk must have felt quite serene during the break. Wenger, on the other hand, needed his team to improve if they were to return home with maximum points. When the breakthrough came, four minutes into the second half, it was surprisingly simple. Ozil floated in a corner, Ashley Williams mis-read the flight, and the unmarked Giroud headed expertly into the bottom corner.

Arsenal's celebrations told how significant they believed the breakthrough to be. Swansea tried to respond but Cech again had a better answer, plunging to his left to palm away a 20-yard shot from Sigurdsson.

The goal that secured the hosts' victory enraged the hosts. Williams should have dealt decisively with a cross by Bellerin but instead headed it backwards into the air. Giroud, Koscielny and Fabianski all leapt to meet it. The goalkeeper got there first but fumbled it - due to a barge by Giroud, according to Swansea players. But the referee did not whistle and Koscielny picked himself up and tapped the ball into the net.

There was no debate about their third goal five minutes later. Sanchez and Ozil demonstrated their class with exquisite interplay before the German crossed for Campbell, who finished emphatically before being engulfed by team-mates delighted both for the player and for a victory that augurs well for the whole club.


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