27 September 2013

Match Preview: Swansea vs. Arsenal, Liberty Stadium, September 28, 2013

Liberty Stadium
Photo courtesy of Matt Daubney

One of the big surprises of last season was Swansea. After safely staying up in their first season in the Premier League, the Welsh side found themselves without a manager after Brendan Rodgers left the club to become a reality TV star. Not a lot was expected of the Swans in year two of their Premiership excursion. I don’t recall if they were talked about in the relegation conversation, but they certainly weren’t expected to repeat the performance of the year before.

But Swansea was one of the highlights of last season. Under Michael Laudrup and his suave leather jacket and charismatic persona, Swansea finished 9th in the League and won the League Cup. What’s more is that the club unearthed a gem from Rayo Vallecano named Miguel Perez Cuesto or simply “Michu.” Michu scored 22 goals in all competitions for Swansea last year and was the one of the few stars on mid-table sides.

More relevant to this preview, he was a thorn in Arsenal’s side, undressing Arsenal with two goals in the fixture at the Emirates. All in all, Michu scored 3 goals in 4 appearances against Arsenal last season. It’s no wonder that he was rumored to be a target of Arsene Wenger during the Summer, despite his vastly inflated price tag. Michu stayed at the Liberty Stadium though and Swansea seemed poised for another strong season. 

Besides keeping their important players like Michu and Ashley Williams, Swansea strengthened the squad in the offseason. The Welsh side spent £12 million on Wilfried Bony, who scored 37 goals in 36 appearances for Vitesse last season. With Michu accounting for 38.3% of the team’s goals last season (18 of the 47), it is clear that Bony has been brought in to reduce that reliance. Both Michu and Bony have been in good form to start the season, though the majority of their production has come in the Europa League. Regardless, Swansea has put together one of the most fearsome strike forces in the Premiership.

Swansea also brought aboard Jonjo Shelvey. Yeah, I know Shelvey isn’t Steven Gerrard (if he was, Liverpool wouldn’t have sold him), but he’s bring steel and work rate to that midfield that Ki simply didn’t have (Ki is on loan with Sunderland). He can be influential in many ways, both positively and negatively. Plus, he was cool cuz he got into a spat with Sir Alex Ferguson, but then lost that coolness by apologizing.

Swansea play a very similar style to Arsenal. They prefer to be on the ball and want to create chances. In fact, there was an illuminating column in the Daily Mail comparing the statistics of Arsenal and Swansea since Laudrup took over last season. Statistically, the teams are more similar than you would think. Arsenal play more on the front foot though.

I watch Swansea a fair amount because I like the way they play, but they’ve had a rough start to the season. While they do have a 3-0 victory away at Valencia in the Europa League, the Premier League has been rough thus far. On the opening weekend, they were thrashed at home by United. Swansea also lost to Spurs at the Lane in a game in which they never really got their feet dug in. It seems that Swansea struggles against the better sides in the Premiership.

One of the major problems for Swansea, particularly against Tottenham, was their inability to win the ball back and hold onto it. If Swansea can’t get the ball to Michu in scoring opportunities, they are not the least bit threatening. For this reason, I feel good about Arsenal’s chances tomorrow. Arsenal has a guy who can disrupt Swansea’s counters (Flamini), a guy that can win back the ball (Ramsey), and a guy that can hold onto the ball (Özil).  Arsenal should dominate possession and the run of play. For Swansea to stay in this game, Michel Vorm will need to turn in a performance similar to the one he put in at the Lane, where he gave Swansea a chance to get at least a point (his teammates didn’t deliver).

Arsenal should win this game. Arsenal is in better form, has rested players, and should dominate possession. Expect Özil and Ramsey to continue their football magic. I could see Arsenal continuing to surprise on set pieces as well. I would love to see Wilshere get his first goal of the season, following the birth of his daughter. 

Arsenal will face challenges down the road, but I doubt that this will be the match that that happens. The midfield is where the game will be won and Arsenal have the much better midfield. My prediction? Arsenal 2, Swansea 0,

Predicted line ups:

Swansea: Vorm; Chico, Williams, Rangel, Davies; Shelvey, Michu, Dyer, Routledge, Canas; Bony

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey, Özil, Wilshere, Gnabry; Giroud

2 comments:

  1. Serious doubts at our ability to keep a clean sheet.

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  2. Understandable, but I have serious doubt at Swansea's ability to hold onto the ball and generate chances. Against Spurs, they looked totally outclassed in midfield. If we get a clean sheet, it's because we controlled the game in midfield and kept the ball out of Michu's feet. That's just one permutation of the game.

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