Monday 11 December 2017

Gunners refuse to give up final chance of silverware without a fight

Swansea city 2 Arsenal 2

Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs celebrates scoring the second goal against Swansea. Photo: PA
Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs celebrates scoring the second goal against Swansea. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

It is seven years, seven months and 17 days since Arsenal won their last trophy and, at times, it felt like the ticking of that proverbial clock was the force that drove Arsene Wenger's team on and, ultimately, back into the tie.

With nine minutes left they were on their way out of the FA Cup, the last competition which they have a realistic chance of winning and the players will have known what was coming. Eight years. The prospect of eight years without a trophy. It may still come to pass but at least they will not have fallen at the very first hurdle.

It took no small measure of character from Wenger's side to drag themselves back into the match with Lukas Podolski's equaliser and then Kieran Gibbs' brilliantly taken second which seemed to have the game won.

Then, in the last few minutes, they threw it away all over again when Danny Graham scored the equaliser that means these two sides will meet at the Emirates on Wednesday week to decide who travels to Brighton in the fourth round.

That was the best and the worst of the current Arsenal team.

They were badly embarrassed by Michu's goal on 58 minutes – a mere 73 seconds after his arrival as a substitute yet they dominated possession for long periods of the game. They were flat-footed for Graham's goal.

It was a Swansea team missing Michu and Ashley Williams from the first XI and the home team's back four was marshalled by Kyle Bartley, the former Arsenal academy kid who had a fine game in just his second outing of the season.

The problem for Arsenal is that they can no longer simply roll into town and expect to beat the smaller clubs of the Premier League at a canter. In fact, given their experience at Bradford City in the League Cup this season, there are no guarantees even against opposition of a much lower level.

This is a Swansea side that won at Arsenal in the league this season, and Wenger's robust team selection clearly had that in mind.

He picked a team to win the game and now the postponed St Stephen's Day league game against West Ham is rescheduled for January 23, his team could play five matches in 13 days in the second half of the month, providing they make the fourth round.

Olivier Giroud embodied much of the frustration about this Arsenal performance. On two occasions his touch in the box was immaculate.

At other times, he could be infuriating. When Michu came on, £9m cheaper and seven league goals better off, it took him no time to give Giroud a lesson in finishing. Gibbs had been too weak with the lively Nathan Dyer and, when the ball broke off Laurent Koscielny to Michu, the Spaniard lofted it over Per Mertesacker.

He did not start the game, Michael Laudrup said, because the forward was not completely fit.

Arsenal had been denied a penalty by Howard Webb when Ramsey was clipped by Dwight Tendialli on 52 minutes. There was the faintest of contact and Wenger, naturally, believed that it should have been a penalty but it required more than one slow-motion replay to ascertain that fact.

There were some fine performances in the Swansea side, from the likes of Leon Britton, Jonathan De Guzman and the 19-year-old Welsh left-back Ben Davies. His one mistake of the game on 75 minutes let Theo Walcott in but the Arsenal forward ended up dragging his shot across goal.

With nine minutes left, Podolski came up with the equaliser.

For the goal, Bacary Sagna headed back Walcott's deep corner, Mikel Arteta retrieved the ball and Podolski hit a crisp right-foot shot from close range. Within two minutes Arsenal were in the lead when Gibbs and Giroud exchanged passes and the full-back scored with a volley.

From there the tie should have been sealed off by Arsenal. Wenger said that he had sensed problems defending set-pieces and he was proved right.

The substitute Kemy Agustien struck a corner that skimmed off the head of Podolski and fell at the feet of Ki Sung-Yeung, unmarked. He poked the ball on to Graham, similarly unattended, who did the rest for Swansea from close range. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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