Ten man Arsenal beat Swansea City 3-2 after open game marred by Granit Xhaka’s harsh sending off
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Arsenal beat Swansea City 3-2 at The Emirates in an open game marred by the second half sending off of Granit Xhaka.
The Gunners achieved the victory with two goals from Theo Walcott and a stunning close range volley from Mesut Ozil.
But the visitors showed character by remaining in the game every time the home side looked to pull away.
However Wenger’s men showed mental toughness of their own by clinching the win with ten men, after what looked to be a harsh sending off.
Arsenal kept same team that won 1-0 at Burnley in their last match before the interminable international, as Granit Xhaka kept his place despite Francis Coquelin being fit again, the Frenchman having to make do with a place on the bench
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Swansea City, who sacked previous manager Francesco Guidolin after their slightly unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago, started the Bob Bradley era with Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero still sidelined as former Napoli forward Federico Fernandez returned to the starting line up after recovering from a groin injury.
Arsenal hosted the Swans with a poor record against them having won only four of their last ten meetings, with one draw and five defeats. If they wanted to add to their run of five consecutive wins they had to do better.
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The Gunners started positively on a sunny autumn afternoon, working the ball well around the edge of their visitor’s penalty and putting them under pressure with their impressive movement. ‘Don’t they always?’ inevitably comes the reply. The truth was that Swansea were another team they needed to beat if they were to continue their ascent to the top of the Premier League table.
But if anyone thought it was ‘only Swansea’ they should have been directed to the 2-1 home defeat last March, which arguably was far more damaging in terms of morale than Wenger’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford days earlier – for it once again proved they weren’t able to dispatch teams they used to dismiss in the first ten years of his reign. A large factor in not winning the title since those glorious days.
If there was a slight whiff of self-satisfaction in the air it was hard not to begrudge it – before the game at least – as the man who changed English football in the 1990s was lauded in his first home match since hitting the two decade mark in charge.
Even the front cover of the match day programme was a tribute to Wenger – although it was testament to the progressive side of the club that they allowed a young Welsh sports artist called Arwyn Thomas the honour of a very original design - a print of Wenger shaped by the name of every player who played under him.
The players that were currently under his charge showed creativity of their own on 12 minutes as a Mesut Ozil corner from the right was met by Shkodran Mustafi. The connection was true but slightly too high as it clipped the top of the bar and over.
The Swansea keeper? Another Wenger old boy, Lukasz Fabianski. Everywhere you looked there were echoes of the ghost of Wenger past for the captain of the Welshmen was Leon Brittan, a youth at Arsenal from 1991 to 1998. Correctly deemed not good enough for that era, this honest professional went on to have a well-respected career. How he would have liked to put one over on Wenger.
His team nearly did on 19 minutes as the lively Wayne Routledge played a ball into the Gambia-born Modou Barrow. The former Blackburn player then fed Leroy Fer centrally on the edge of the area.
The Dutchman nicknamed ‘The Bouncer’ by a Feyenoord youth coach for his stocky build saw his wastefully high shot fail to gain entry into Petr Cech’s net. A forward who wasn’t wasteful was Theo Walcott in the 26th minute, who bustled defender Jordi Amat off the ball near Fabianski’s goal line, after the increasingly impressive Hector Bellerin played the ball into the box. For Walcott, criticised by many for two lacklustre England performances, it was a reply of sorts, as he continued his impressive start – for The Arsenal at least – this season.
As if to underline his stellar growth Bellerin then had two chances to increase the lead – thwarted as much by a slight failure in calibrating his aim rather than a lack of temperament or technique. Of which he has plenty.
Whatever he’s asking for during new contract negotiations the club should just give it to him. For someone who was delighted in being given an Oyster card with unlimited travel as part of his first contract how hard can it be to retain a defender with attacking instincts embedded in his DNA, and who clearly loves playing at the club? Although the reply could be ‘Ashley Cole anyone?’
Walcott then doubled the lead on 32 minutes as he pounced on a mistake by Jack Cork in failing to clear a corner. There was still much work to be done, but Walcott, looking as lively as he has done since January 2014, collected the bouncing ball and swivelled to fire a half volley emphatically past Fabianski to make it 2-0.
However, just five minutes later Gylfi Siggurdson found himself running into space on the edge of the Gunners area before he fired a curling left-footed shot that evaded Cech – who in truth appeared to be flatfooted in anticipating.
It was typical Arsenal. Just when fans were about to sit back and watch their team take complete control of the game – and the vital three points – they reverted to type and made things difficult for themselves as referee Jon Moss blew for half time shortly afterwards.
The second half started with a booking for left back Neil Taylor as he swiped Ozil’s legs from under him, with the resulting free kick on the right hand side of the area came to nothing.
Was it going to be a precursor to a frustrating second half or a prelude to further attacking?
We were to find out it was to be both in a frenetic second 45 minutes.
Barrow threatened with his pace as his looked to take on Mustafi wide on the right wing.
Yet it was hugely instructive to see his defensive partner Koscielny understand the pacy forward looked to have the beating of his colleague and so came across to intercept and play the ball back to Cech, thwarting any danger in the process.
To see the unit work so well together, even at such a high defensive line on the wing is very encouraging, because that is what they are steadily becoming – an effective defensive unit.
Proof was forthcoming the team was also melding into an effective attacking one on 57 minutes as Sanchez played the ball over a static backline. It fell inch perfectly onto Ozil’s left foot. For those of you who love perfectly executed volley’s it was one to savour – which it was by a delirious crowd as the German was engulfed by equally delirious teammates.
No wonder those who appreciate such impressive touch and movement are not sending the less mobile Giroud get well cards just yet.
But yet again, Arsenal showed weakness that has those less than enamoured with Wenger pulling their hair out. Barrow, looking lively once again tormented Monreal before feeding the ball through to substitute Gonzalez Borja Baston who fired into the net to make it 3-2, with more than 20 minutes of this unpredictable match remaining.
There were more shocks to come as referee Moss then decided to send off Xhaka for a straight red after fouling Barrow just before the halfway line. Yes it was a cynical trip. But a straight red when there were plenty of men covering and no apparent danger? No.
If new rules were designed to clarify situations such as these, the fear is that changes – however well-intentioned – have only served to muddy the waters. Again.
With five minutes left Walcott nearly brought the house down as his low, curling shot hit the post and rebounded along the lone and away. It was that kind of game.
As the clock ticked down and the crowd howled their frustrations at the referee and at Swansea City, the truth was their team should not have had to fight so hard to win this game. Although, having done so, you could argue the fact they did so is testament to their new-found mental toughness and character.
And as Moss blew the final whistle to end this crazy game – for Wenger, his team and the fans the three points were all that mattered.
Whether they can again get away with such a fortuitous victory in their nascent hunt for the title remains to be seen.
Cech, Koscileny (c), Sanchez (Oxlade-Chamberlain), Ozil (Gibbs), Walcott, Iwobi (Coquelin), Monreal, Cazorla, Mustafi, Bellerin, Xhaka
Fabianski, Amat, Taylor, Britton (c) (Baston) Fer, Routledge, Barrow (Angel), Sigurdsson, Cork, Naughton, Fernandez
Referee: Jon Moss
Tickets sold: 60,007