Swansea and Arsenal contributed to a thrilling second half, ending with three goals in the last ten minutes, after a slow-burner of a game. The two sides will now need a replay to decide who plays Brighton in the fourth round of the FA Cup, here are five quick observations…
Both sides are famed for their slick passing and patient build-up play and Arsenal’s pressing reflected a willingness to force Swansea into a more direct style. Rather than press the Swansea back four (red box), Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud dropped off and instead sat in front of Swansea’s two deepest midfielders, Ki Sung-Yueng and Leon Britton (blue rings). The tactic worked very well and Swansea’s passing initially seemed sloppier than usual. Their centre backs were reluctant to drive forward with the ball and the only time Cazorla and Giroud pushed onto the back four was when they approached the half-way line. This then led to Jack Wilshere pushing higher up onto whichever one of Ki or Britton moved deeper to try and receive the ball.
Theo Walcott has made headlines recently with his goal scoring performances from centre forward, but today he started on the right wing as part of a 4-2-3-1 (see diagram). Or at least he did initially, however it soon became clear that he was acting as more of a second striker, sticking close to Giroud up front in the hope of running onto his flick-on’s. Walcott mainly received possession towards a right of centre position on the pitch and this therefore created vast amounts of space down the Arsenal right for right back Bacary Sagna to motor into and push Swansea’s left winger Wayne Routledge back.
Swansea counter attacks
Arsenal had the majority of possession, but struggled to penetrate when their build-up play involved more than half-a-dozen passes. When Swansea gained possession, they were far quicker at attacking on the counter. Often Nathan Dyer looked to cut inside from the right flank, bringing Kieran Gibbs inside with him, and this left plenty of room down the Swansea right for Dutch right back Dwight Tiendalli to attack. Gibbs was also just as easily exposed when Dyer remained wide down that side of the pitch and on a few occasions Jonathan De Guzman, playing in the hole, made some very clever through balls in between Gibbs and his left-sided centre back Laurent Koscielny, for Dyer to run onto. Just as successful were several clever diagonal balls from centre back Kyle Bartley towards the left wing in behind Sagna for Routledge and Ben Davies, the Swansea left back.
Arrival of Michu
With the game still 0-0 as it approached the hour mark, Swansea manager Michael Laudrup made a double substitution and it worked wonders. De Guzman and Routledge were replaced by Michu who came on in the hole, and Pablo Hernandez who was deployed from the left (red rings). Michu offered a more physical presence than the man he replaced, and his first involvement of the game was to score after breaking through the centre of the pitch and passing the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Hernandez also made a good impact with his direct running at the heart of the Arsenal defence which dragged Sagna into some uncomfortable central positions.
The last ten minutes
The best spell of the game for the neutral was the last ten minutes which saw three goals. The first was an equaliser for Arsenal after substitute Lukas Podolski fired in. The goal was more than justified as Arsenal enjoyed a spell of total domination once going a goal down and forced Swansea keeper Michel Vorm into some good saves – and his back four into making some important blocks and clearances. Arsenal took the lead two minutes later after Gibbs finished emphatically on the volley after his run into the box went unnoticed. However, Swansea had the last laugh when Danny Graham provided a dramatic equaliser in the 86th minute, after his effort was hammered into the roof of the net following a corner. This game took a while to get going but the last ten minutes were extremely exciting and both sides will now meet again in an unwanted replay.
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