Swansea City v Arsenal
The Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
KO: Saturday March 16, 2011 11 AM EDT/8 AM PDT/3 PM GMT
Moving images coverage: Fox Soccer Channel
Arsenal travel to League Cup winners Swansea City on Saturday, looking to kickstart a run that will end with them preferably ahead of both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, but, at the very least, in the top 4. That means that Arsenal really do need to win against Swansea, especially with Chelsea and Tottenham having home games that they should win. The problem is that Swansea are starting to become Arsenal's bogey team, taking 6 points from 9 in Premier League meetings. The good news is that Arsenal have dominated the last two encounters, both in this year's FA Cup. The 2-2 draw at the Liberty was unfortunate; Arsenal should've run away with the match in the second half, as they should've in the reply, where a Jack Wilshere goal won the tie.
The key to Arsenal nullifying Swansea at the Emirates was the use of Santi Cazorla on the left of midfield for the first time. Arsenal, playing a pressing game, were able to stop Swansea for holding possession for long periods and then creating chances, characteristics of their 2-0 defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates in December. Cazorla will probably start on the left again tomorrow, as Lukas Podolski still hasn't recovered from his ankle injury, and the only other option is, well, Gervinho, who since returning from the Cup of African Nations has the look of being a "desperation, not to be used unless we're truly in the brown stuff" sub.
Jack Wilshere, as expected, is unfit, as is Kieran Gibbs, who's being nursed through this "recover from thigh injury and please don't have to resort to Vermaelen at left back" thing. Both will be absent against Swansea, though Gibbs should be back for Reading. Nacho Monreal will come back into the team, and Tomas Rosicky will probably start in place of Wilshere, ahead of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey. Arsene Wenger could change things up and play Abou Diaby alongside Arteta, with Ramsey as #10, but given the Welshman's growing affinity for the role, and his impressive displays, it'd be a wrong move.
Arsenal defended superbly against Bayern Munich, pressing when required, dropping deep when required, and generally playing a compact game. In recent weeks the defending generally has been better, and Arsenal have pressed in a better shape. The games where it hasn't happened have been those that feature Thomas Vermaelen in the defence, and while it is unfair to put all of Arsenal's defensive woe on the Belgian, he is in a horrendous run of form, and Arsenal seem to generally defend better when Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesaceker partner each other. It also looks as if Lukasz Fabianski, having completely changed mentally, according to Arsene Wenger, is the surer goalkeeper at the moment, and, as the old adage goes, you never change a winning team.
With a more confident, and visibly communicative Fabianski, and two defenders who are in better form, playing the type of defensive game that Arsenal have to play--generally, pressing, but being able to drop deep when required, which means more concentration, should be more possible. They'll want to improve their passing game, especially as Swansea City also press, though their marking is not as good as Bayern Munich's, and they do quite often sit deeper, which is why Ashley Williams has only 26 fewer blocks than Arsenal as an entire club.
Because these two sides generally tend to have the same tactics, the second halves, where both managers, but namely Arsene Wenger, make adjustments, are far different to the first half. With Arsenal having fewer options because of injury, taking the initiative to begin with will be extremely important. But above all, just f*cking win.
Subs: Szczesny, Coquelin, Vermaelen, Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Arshavin