Sometimes you have good days where things just go wrong. What seems to be routine, well wrought and regular just fall apart in your hands, leaving you with more work than initially planned. Yesterday’s game at the Emirates between Arsenal and Swansea was like that for both sides. Granit Xhaka, Jordi Amat and Jack Cork are all going to look back on yesterday as one they’d like to live over. (Heck, even Theo Walcott might rue not having another goal or two.) Or forget.
The result ended up very friendly to Arsenal. Two gifts and a moment of Özil were enough to see out a stubborn Swansea and likely leaves the team settled enough to rest up and move forward. Arsenal now share a spot at the top of the league and many of us will forgive a sloppy game.
Theo Walcott. Did you see how crap he was for England? I don’t know what Arsenal see in him, honestly. How could a player be so good for a team that has nurtured and trusted and healed with him for years and then be so bad for one that has jerked him around and left him out of tournaments as suited their needs?
Walcott looked bright, lively and made excellent moves yesterday. He then did something Arsene Wenger loves - he poached a few goals. Swansea’s defense became a comedy of errors and Theo made them pay. And he could have had three more, failing to capitalize on the ball falling to him after a wonderdribble by Alex Iwobi and twice when linking up with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on some blistering counterattacks. The good and the bad; two gifted goals when you should have scored four. Even still, Walcott has become the attacking winger Arsenal needs.
Mesut Özil. Happy Belated Birthday, Mesut. Excellent movement, clever passes and one smashing perfect volley. The German did everything yesterday and remains Arsenal’s heartbeat.
They hung on. Reduced to 10 after giving up a second goal rather lazily, Arsenal buckled down and dug out a win. I’ve seen similar sides toss away leads with a full compliment. One cannot deny there is a better structure this year to the team and grunting out their last two Premier League wins suggests they might have the staying power we’ve been longing for the last five seasons.
Iwobi Dribbles! I mean... sheesh, are the defense even really there? (h/t @Arsenalist)
Granit Xhaka. He really did inspire my opening, so let me start with - he really didn’t have a bad game, but it wasn’t a great performance. The excuse will be made over the strain of having played in the interlull and, despite fairly solid play, he made some sloppy decisions that point fingers at tired, lazy play. The goal, Arsenal’s defense as a whole were knocking it to each other pretty calmly despite having Swansea players in their midst. When Xhaka received it, he tried to dance around Gylfi Sigurdsson who was right on top of him. A slightly heavy touch later and Sigurdsson was by him and put a shot into the top corner from range. It was bad, it happens. That’s kind of how I see Granit’s game yesterday.
Defence on Swansea’s Second. Arsenal’s defense has been rightly defined a stingy as of late but in the 66th minute, they looked a bit like pylons. As two Gunner’s tried to close down the cross, a long, low and not particularly fast cross came into the box... and no one reacted. Borja Baston was alone in front and scored a very simple goal. The defense was flatfooted, Shkodran Mustafi had lost his man and Laruent Koscielny was nowhere. Be better not to give those up too often.
Lack of Rotation. While it’s been a while since Arsenal’s last game, a full slate of internationals had seen most of the team in action. Yet, Arsene Wenger decided that the best course was the play an unchanged side. More than a few players looked a bit off and put in subpar performances. With Olivier Giroud, Lucas Perez, Mohamed Elneny, Rob Holding, Gabriel Paulista all available yet not seeing the pitch, it begs the question of what the team’s plans are for its depth. Arsenal are largely healthy and games like Swansea and Ludogrets aren’t so vastly difficult that they could not have afforded to save some legs and, perhaps a bit of drama.
The Officiating. I cringe to do this because complaining about the refs seems too easy and an excuse. But this game called for it. Late offside calls, inconsistent foul calls and one nearly disastrous red card all call into question the official’s competency yesterday. Most egregious was Xhaka’s red. It was a foul, cynical and late but still in one of those split second poor timings that occur every game in this league. They happened in yesterday’s game without punishment. For Xhaka to receive a red for his first whistled offense, which was not studs up or greatly malicious, is outrageous. It was a yellow, Xhaka expected it to be, the gamecaller expected it to be, I expected it to be. And so should it have been. Arsenal thankfully have bodies to cover his ban (please play Elneny), but it never should be one.