Swansea away today will be a test, of that I’m sure, which is why I’m more than a little apprehensive of our back four.
It’s not just down to Nacho Monreal that our form and frequency of goals conceded has greatly increased from last season. Per Mertesacker has to step up too and, with Arteta injured today, he needs to demonstrate his leadership abilities by marshalling the defence and keeping the unit tighter together. Also, with Arteta out, it will be incumbent on Matthieu Flamini to drastically improve his form today if we want to stay resolute at the back. Defending is not the sole preserve of the back four; it has to be a team effort that starts from the forward players and works backwards. Thankfully in Welbeck and Alexis we have so players who will press higher up the pitch, but should Santi and Rambo start again in midfield, we need to see more from them from the defensive side as much as the offensive. On Tuesday night the warning signs were there in the first half. There were two or three breaks from Anderlecht players where massive areas of the middle of the park were left free for purple-shirted players to run in to. It simple wasn’t acceptable and I remember see Arteta have a bit of a shouty moment in that first half at his fellow midfielders for not closing the space.
Today we have to be able to be more compact as a team and use our fantastic pace to counter Swansea at lightning speed. We simply must ensure that the area of the park in front of our back four is looked after. In the absence of Arteta, that must mean Flamini, but I’m also looking in the direction of Rambo too. He has to get back to basics and do the simple things first. Win tackles, close down space, distribute the ball to a red shirt effectively. That’s what we need to see from our Welshman. Who knows, maybe the return to Wales and the inevitable booing of a Cardiff boy in Swansea, will give more motivation for Rambo to have a great game. I certainly hope so.
As for the other free spot in the team, I think Arsène will play The Ox again. He was decent enough against Anderlecht and his goal will give him plenty of confidence to take into this game. He’s also more of a willing runner when it comes to tracking back, so I think that will remain in his favour and Arsène will name an unchanged side from Tuesday. Personally, I’d be tempted to put Rosicky in, perhaps over Santi, but I don’t think Arsène is in that frame of mind, so expect to see a grumpy looking Tomas this afternoon on the subs bench.
As for Swansea, they’re two scary players are clearly Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson. I would say Shelvey as well, but that’s less to do with his play and more to do with his overall appearance. And anyway, he’s suspended today. Sigurdsson is the real gem though. The Swansea team looks to be at its best when he is pulling the strings and he looks like he has a telepathic understanding with Bony. That’s why I think it will be essential that we close down space in front of our back four, because that is where Sigurdsson will look to operate and find those balls for Bony in front of our back four.
Nacho is going to need to be strong too, because Bony will look to play off him as much as possible I’d expect.
I don’t want to come across as too much of a neg this morning, but I simply don’t see us not conceding today, which is why the front three will have to get us at least two goals I think to win the game. My hope is that Swansea are as low on confidence as we are – having not won in six games – but the trouble you have with a big team is that sides like Swansea really get themselves up for games against the top three or four, so you know that they’ll look to come out the blocks quickly and try and stun us into silence.
It’s never been easy playing Swansea and they have a good record against us, but if we think that there’s even the tiniest slither of hope of challenging for the league, this is a game that must be won. Heck, even to get our Champions League aspirations on track, we still need to get a win. We’ve had too many draws already this season so I’m hoping we’ll not be treated to another one today.
Come on Arsenal!