0 – 1 Gnabry (58)
0 – 2 Ramsey (62)
1 – 2 Davies (82)
Some players have names are ready-made for puns.
That’s just an aside, a lead into the main piece. Arsenal succeeded where their rivals failed, taking three points to end the day two points clear of second-placed Tottenham. I am just going to say that again for two reasons; second-placed Tottenham. The first reason is genuine surprise that they occupy such lofty heights; the second is just gloating. Forever in our shadow.
As Mark Clattenburg provided the breath which signalled the end of the first half, the final outcome, the liveliness of the second half seemed a world away. Arsenal seeking a twelfth – yes, we won at West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night – consecutive away win looked tired, largely devoid of ideas. Or if not bereft of inspiration, lacking perspiration at crucial attacking moments. There was no lack of blood, mud and sweat in defending or protecting the defence; even the most creative talents worked hard to maintain the status quo at half-time. Not that Swansea offered much in clear opportunities in separating the teams.
Indeed the best chance in the first half fell to Olivier Giroud when Piers Morgan’s favourite player danced through the Swansea defence, Gnabry releasing Olivier Giroud but the French striker dragged his shot wide, a chance that he has gobbled greedily so far season; this time, it went begging. Hearts were a-fluttering moments earlier, an injury scare opening the possibility of Arsenal going into the international break with the reborn Nicklas Bendtner leading the line. It was something of a surprise that the Dane was not given another opportunity to hone his match fitness as a two-goal lead was established in the second half.
As it was, Arsenal had defended their territory doggedly in the first half with Per Mertesacker shrugging off any signs of lethargy induced by his busy schedule this season to produce a domineering performance, the leader of the Arsenal defence, unusually animated during the second half as Swansea pressed for a foothold into the game. Being Arsenal, praise was deflected as deftly as the ball ricocheted into the net off Davies’ knee, leading into a heart-fluttering final ten minutes, penalty scares and all.
By then Arsenal were two goals to the good, quick-fire finishing proving to be the difference between the two sides. As ever, Aaron Ramsey proved to be the go-to-guy; when Arsenal needed a goal, their most consistent scorer this season made himself available and provided the pass needed to allow Gnabry to Serge into the area and provide the finish needed, drilling the ball into the net. Roles were reversed minutes later but it was Giroud’s deft backheel that freed the Welshman, whose unbridled joy at the finish made the welcome from the valleys stick in his compatriots’ throats.
The margin of victory might have been more, Mesut Özil’s first Arsenal goal has yet to come and few clearer opportunities have been carved for him to do so; Michael Worm proved himself to be another in a long line of goalkeepers linked with a move to Arsenal who provided a formidable barrier when he faces them competitively.
Having been hit twice on the counter, Swansea sought to exert more pressure in a vain effort to reduce the deficit. Bony lit the blue touch-paper with an effort from range before Jack Wilshere’s mistake appeared to allow an opening to be carved; it wasn’t to be as Michu was deemed not to have kept the ball in play. The England midfielder is catching a lot of flak for the mistake, accentuated as his detractors continue their obtuse path to downplay his abilities. He, like Ramsey, is a young player recovering from a serious injury. Having seen the path trodden by the Welshman, it is surprising that Wilshere is not offered the same protection, the same demands for patience.
As it was Arsenal held on despite Davies’ late goal. A lot of credit is due to Wojciech Szczesny. When the pressure was applied, he commanded his area well, confidently claiming the ball when previous years would have seen the rashness of youth charge headlong into no-man’s land. That maturity bodes well for him personally but also the defence. A familiar deficiency has been a lack of confidence in whichever goalkeeper is playing yet this seems to be a problem which is diminishing each week. The settled back four helps and the combined effect of the two is being reaped on the pitch.
Post-match, Arsène was quick to praise the key protagonist but also eager to quell expectations. As he rightly noted, Aaron Ramsey won’t grab 38 goals this season; his contribution to the team will be felt in other areas as his colleagues step up to the plate. From the manager’s point of view, the sooner that happens the better. It stops Ramsey becoming the focal point of the team’s attack, being marked out as a threat. A key feature of his success has been a similarity to that which David Platt mastered; arriving late to take advantage of the space as defenders and midfielders look to other for danger.
As it is, I should think that is not foremost on Arsène’s mind as he enjoyed the moment, savoured his seventeenth anniversary in charge of the club by sitting atop the Premier League. He’ll enjoy the moment whilst it lasts, perhaps have a certain sympathy for David Moyes difficulties but refuse to be smug. He knows the path to the end of the season is fraught with danger and be wary of the dangers of complacency.