By Shane Thomas
ARSENAL 0-2 SWANSEA
On a matchday that began with a march from the Black Scarf enclave of discontented Arsenal fans ended with the entire Emirates Stadium in a state of disgust by the limp performance that led to a 2-0 defeat to Swansea; a result which was fully merited by Michael Laudrup's side. After the march, came the rancour.
This was essentially a match of confirmation. While Swansea are the kind of team that Arsenal should expect to beat - particularly at home - they're not so weak that one can afford not to give a strong display in the pursuit of victory.
In previous seasons under Arsene Wenger's stewardship, the Gunners have often taken to the pitch with a discernible attacking strategy. Whether it was the dominance of the central areas through Patrick Vieira & Emmanuel Petit, the tiki-taka style that had Cesc Fabregas at its hub, or the more direct style that relied on penetration from wide to augment the skills of Robin Van Persie, the tactics were clear. Nothing has changed in that respect, but the problem is that the tactic this season seems to be, "Get the ball to Santi Cazorla and see what happens".
Well what has largely happened since the loss to Chelsea is that Cazorla has been suffocated out of matches, rendering Arsenal's attacking game impotent. There was one occasion when he got he the ball in near Swansea's penalty area, with his back to goal. Ki Sung-Yeung & Leon Britton (probably the game's best player) immediately closed Cazorla down. Before the Spaniard could even turn on the ball, he was dispossessed.
With two sides who tend to rely on their strength through possession, the likely victor would come from which team used the ball more effectively, which was Swansea. While many fans will look to blame Thomas Vermaelen, and especially Carl Jenkinson for Michu's two goals, the back four had a relatively solid afternoon. Had Arsenal been more proficient in their passing and movement, it would have taken a lot more pressure off the defence, and would have asked more questions of the Swansea backline.
Arsenal were largely static off-the-ball, and Swansea played a canny counter-attacking game, which was a combination of keeping numbers behind the ball and pressing intelligently. Despite a series of penalty appeals in the second half, Arsenal barely tested Gerhard Tremmel in the Swansea goal, not once creating anything resembling a clear chance.
The real story of the game for me was Michu's first goal. The Arsenal fans had been largely frustrated up to that point, but the second the Spaniard's shot beat a hitherto impressive Wojciech Szczesny - while there was discernible outrage - the primary reaction from Gooners was for them to get up from their seats and leave. When Michu's second goal precipitated the final whistle, some fans even tried to throw their club scarves onto the pitch in fury. As I heard the sound of upturned seat after upturned seat, the subtext was clear; Arsenal fans no longer believe in this side, and its ability to be an auspicious force in the game. This is hardly a revelation, but I think many of us felt that Wenger might be able to find a way to spin straw into gold, as he's done in seasons past.
But this could prove a task even beyond Le Professeur. While Arsenal are capable of making up the 5 point gap between them and Tottenham in 4th place, if you look at the sides in a similar position in the league table, it shows who Arsenal's rivals are these days. And England's best clubs are no longer among them. During the recent trophy drought, one of the things that I always found solace in was that I supported a team that would always win more games than it didn't. Is that time now over?
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