I think arseblog called it right when he said this was a game we could have lost and yet should have won. For a long time, it looked as if this was going to be one of those games for Arsenal: we had plenty of possession without doing very much with it. Swansea, however, were typically efficient, and looked a threat every time their passing game developed in to a full-blown attack.
The first half was a tepid, turgid affair. This Arsenal team seem to have an ‘all or nothing’ approach to fluidity; when they fail to click, it’s like milking a rottweiler: painful for everyone involved and ugly on the eye. The game only exploded in to life with the introduction of Michu.
The Spaniard came on as a 56th minute substitute. By the 58th minute, he’d scored. He looped the ball over Per Mertesacker, sprinted past the off-form German, and held off Laurent Koscielny to score his fifteenth goal of the campaign. Just as at the Emirates a month or so ago, I was hugely impressed by his movement, strength, and technical ability. Come the start of next season, he ought to be playing for a Champions League club.
The goal came against the run of play. Arsenal had begun the second half with considerably more purpose, with the tireless forward momentum of Kieran Gibbs a key feature. It was a substitute of our own who would help bring just reward: Lukas Podolski. He himself had been on for less than ten minutes when he turned to volley home after Swansea failed to clear a Theo Walcott corner.
It was a stunning finish: for all the talk about Theo Walcott, the German is the most clinical man in front of goal at the club. Some supporters seem frustrated by his habit of disappearing in certain games, but I’d suggest that pattern is typical of a forward in a side struggling for fluency. When we’re off our game, his movement goes unnoticed and he can be very quiet. When we’re in the groove, however, there is no player I trust more to make the most of opportunities to score or create. His goal yesterday takes his tally for the season to 10; impressive for a player at the halfway point of his first season in English football.
Having grabbed the equaliser, Arsenal had all the momentum, and there was a touch of Podolski about their second goal too. Kieran Gibbs played a one-two with Olivier Giroud to meet his clipped pass with a sumptuous volley that had more than a hint of Poldi’s against Montpellier about it. It was just reward for a storming performance from Gibbs. Whilst I appreciate he is prone to the occasional defensive lapse, his energy, stamina and positive running from left-back make up for it on balance, and I was delighted for him to get a deserved goal.
Having taken the lead with just seven minutes to play, most teams would expect to hold on for the victory. N.B. : ‘most teams’. Arsenal had other ideas, and their static zonal marking came a-cropper again when Danny Graham was left free at the far post to thump in a late equaliser from a corner. Mikel Arteta will be particularly disappointed with his failure to close the striker down.
All in all, I’m content with the draw. It meant Arsenal went in to the hat for the fourth round, when for 83 minutes that looked dubious at best. The impact of Podolski from the bench was a lesson in the value of having quality in reserve. The problem Arsenal have going forward is that Podolski was only on the bench to save his tired legs. Ordinarily, they wouldn’t be able to turn to someone of that calibre to bail them out.
You can see where I’m going with this: with loan departures for Marouane Chamakh and Johan Djourou now confirmed, it’s time for Arsenal to take advantage of that space in the squad and bring in some new players. Arsene repeated his post-match mantra of being on the lookout for “one or two” additions; I hope he’s bluffing and that those targets were identified long ago. A month is not as long as he seems to think.
Arsenal now face a replay with Swansea on the 16th of January. The winner of that game will travel to Brighton in the FA Cup fourth round. Along with the rescheduled game with West Ham, it means Arsenal have a pretty hectic month ahead, and any reinforcements will thus be all the more welcome.
Arsene might be worried about 8 games in four weeks, but for supporters it means a veritable feast of football. Bring it on.