Swansea City 2 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Michu (58)
1 – 1 Podolski (81)
1 – 2 Gibbs (83)
2 – 2 Graham (88)
Three goals in the last ten minutes mean these two sides must replay at The Emirates in ten days time for the right to a seaside trip in the fourth round. Arsenal appeared to have snatched a late win but slack defending allowed Danny Graham the opportunity to salvage a draw, a chance that he did not waste. It summed up what had been a thud and blunder match, an insipid first half sprang to life following the interval.
It created an imaginary fixture list congestion with Arsenal facing a game every three games, the sort of fixture list that the players face before Christmas when the Champions League, League Cup and internationals all take place. For the media it offered the opportunity to offer the thought to the manager that this might require activity in the transfer market. It brought a flippant response from Arsène that the squad can cope if Abou Diaby comes back and he finds one or two players in the transfer market. He needs to dust off the cheque book quickly that being the case because relying on the French international’s fitness is pure folly and this fixture congestion starts next weekend. Still, it allowed some intense speculation over David Villa this morning which is better than nothing.
The frenetic finish to the tie seemed a world away during a first half which saw lots of passing that went nowhere from both sides. Swansea might have taken the lead with Szczesny making a fine save from Graham who outmuscled Mertesacker rather too easily, the German also failed to pressure Bartley intently enough as the former Arsenal player hit the woodwork although it is debatable whether Szczesny had that covered. Post-match, Arsène observed that sending players on loan is a double-edged sword with the expectation of playing matches creating an impatience. In that case, Wenger could not win; Bartley wanted to play so left. Had he stayed, no doubt his injury record would have been a stick to beat the manager with; more deadwood.
Arsenal created their own chances but more often than not these were snuffed out or finished with a tame shot; Michel Vorm was not extended in making any of the saves. Ramsey had perhaps the best opportunity but having weaved through the Swansea defence he took one turn too many, leaving himself no room to put in a telling shot at the end of his hard work.
The second half proved more lively with Olivier Giroud, almost making amends for an earlier miss, saw an outstanding volley saved by Vorm whilst Ramsey clipped his own heels under pressure from the defence, Wenger believing it was a clear penalty but not many others did. More lively but the awaited breakthrough came at the other end, Michu picked up on a loose ball and flicked it over Mertesacker’s head, scoring under pressure with a guided shot past Szczesny. Giroud wasted a glorious opening with a header following outstanding work by Ramsey, the Welshman’s last telling contribution.
His replacement, Lukas Podolski, did not make such a quick contribution to the afternoon as Michu; he took eight minutes to score. Swansea didn’t clear a corner properly, Koscielny returned the ball into Podolski’s path with the German unerringly into the corner of the net. Two minutes later and the tie had been turned on its head. Gibbs played a one-two with Giroud, the Frenchman’s return ball weighted perfectly over a static defence with Gibbs volleying superbly past Vorm. It seemed that Arsenal had snatched victory but that was short-lived.
As the final whistle beckoned, Arsenal went to sleep from a corner with Graham having time and space on the edge of the six yard area, lofting the ball past Szczesny. Koscielny saw a late header saved by Vorm, the rebound skied over the bar whilst Tiendalli saw a gaping space at Szczesny’s near post and went for glory, finding only the side-netting.
It was hardly surprising that Arsène was not unhappy at the replay, noting that it is better to have another match than exit the competition. Yet having secured the lead that late in the game, it is hugely disappointing that the team were not able to close out the game. That is a common criticism of the squad – more common that the mantra of “seven years without a trophy“. No matter what combination of the defence, only claiming eight clean sheets from thirty games this season is disappointing and underlines a problem that has never been fully resolved over a number of seasons.
What this week brings, who knows. It is disturbing to some extent that any activity was dependant on shifting players out of the squad. I understand why the manager might place more importance on retaining Theo Walcott but that is not mutually exclusive to strengthening the squad. There is a pressing need for both issues to be resolved but the club cannot be held over a barrel whilst Walcott decides his future; the deadline at the end of the month means Arsenal must force the issue and procastination met with the signing of a central striker with a greater sense of loyalty.