Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea City
1 – 0 Wilshere (86)
It turned out to be an eye-opening day for Arsenal. A win that confirmed Arsenal’s place as the outstanding team of the season – elevated from the very good squad to an outstanding group of players – and the realisation for even his most ardent admirer, that Arsène Wenger has ruined Arsenal Football Club so much that Pep Guardiola does not even want to take over when the Frenchman leaves.
But we’ll Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive and that goodness that 2013 is proving to be the year of Our Lord, Jack Wilshere, along with his faithful helper, Abou Diaby, who even with one leg, proved to be the new signing that we all hoped he would be. To top it off, news broke of a £30m bid for an unnamed player from an unnamed club; does anybody genuinely believe this is the case with such scant details. I say details when there are no details whatsoever. Feverish speculation that followed on from the erroneous confirmation that Theo Walcott has signed a new deal. Yes, a great day for the supporters.
Into the third paragraph of the post and we’ll bring everyone back to reality. Pep Guardiola was never in the frame for the Arsenal job, there isn’t one available at this moment in time. If Arsène is to leave, I suspect it will all be done quickly with a replacement already to be named. Or at least that’s how it ought to be done, no prolonged farewell procession around the Premier League grounds, a final goodbye on the final home game of the season with something another time. Only the arrogance of the English media presumed Guardiola would be coming to a club on these shores.
And last night’s deserved victory over Swansea was nothing more than a good day at the office. If it builds confidence for future matches, that is ideal but in no way does a hard-working first half followed by an elevated second half performance, confirm any return to form. It was a good performance and a level or two above their opponents, acknowledged by Michael Laudrup post-match. But it most definitely is not a sign that demons have been conquered. A potential Wenger replacement and former child prodigy himself, the Dane’s observations about Jack Wilshere were probably correct. He is a very good player with the tag of “World Class” being bestowed on him by football people if he reproduces such form next season, at which point we’ll probably be drawn into another transfer saga. We’re a bit ahead of everyone at Arsenal in honouring him as such now but who cares?
As with Sunday afternoon, the youngster was at the heart of everything which was good about the performance last night. There has been a consistency in his return to form since injury, one which has done little to quell the level of expectancy placed upon his shoulders. And there is little sign that he is doing anything other than relishing the pressure. His goal was a cracking finish from Olivier Giroud’s lay-off, keeping the ball down and shooting with pace and power on the run. It was a lesson to youngsters, is I believe the received wisdom. To score was nothing less than he deserved, Wilshere had been involved in everything, prompting Arsenal whilst showing no lack of willingness to stifle Swansea.
His was the best of several good performances. Sagna seemed to have shaken the cobwebs off whilst Diaby improved as his match fitness returned. Coquelin completed the midfield triumverate with a solid performance although I am not sure that the manager will be persuaded it was enough for a place against Chelsea. I also thought Giroud did well, his only failing being not hitting the net. Culpable as he was on some occasions, there was little he could when defenders and goalkeeper put themselves in the way on other occasions.
The main talking point surrounded Theo Walcott. Whilst he too failed to score, praise should be forthcoming for the positioning and the runs he made. His miss having been fouled is a difficult call for the referee. Having quickly signalled the advantage to allow the Arsenal striker to get his shot, the decision became contentious only when the ball drifted wide of the post. Little wonder that Walcott questioned the official as to why not penalty had been awarded. The shove no matter how small could be construed as contributing to the miss although my own suspicion is that Theo was looking to blame something. Clattenburg could – and should – have taken further action against Flores (I think). Playing the advantage does not absolve the official from taking retrospective action, unlike the FA who cannot do anything with the referee deemed to have seen the incident.
Swansea will point to the woodwork saving Arsenal in the first half, Bartley once more the beneficiary of some lax marking but on the whole Szczesny did not have much to do, a signal of Arsenal’s superiority. The visitors though were afflicted by some of their host’s failings; when they had the ball, they were an entirely different proposition to the team which did not do enough without possession. They are traits which Arsenal display often enough. How much of that is their style of play is unknown, masked by the superiority of the Arsenal’s second half performance.
It is a win to be enjoyed but the unbridled gloating that accompanied it, was out of proportion. If this is the building block to the second half of the season charge the club needs to embark upon, it can be considered a season-changing win. We won’t know that for a few games yet.