27 September 2013

Against Swansea, look to Giroud. He's easy on the eyes and on the prowl...

Don't let Swansea's uneven start to the season or its crashing out of the league cup against Championship side Birmingham fool you—for as strong a start as we're on, it is one after all that is enabled in part by whom we've faced. Fulham, Sunderland, and Stoke can hang tough enough to claim a point or even nick all three on their day, but Swansea has drawn with in-form Liverpool,  lost narrowly at White Hart Lane, and come away with a nifty away-win against Valencia. They've now won three of their last five, and one can easily chalk up the loss to Birmingham to squad selection, as new signing Jonjo Shelvey was the only regular to have played significant minutes. For as much as we fretted the squad selection for our own third-round match against West Brom, we at least came through. One wonders, then, if Laudrup underestimated Birmingham or overestimated his own squad. In either case, both clubs will go on fielding relatively rested, full-strength squads. For Swansea, there are injury doubts for Ashley Williams and Pablo Hernandez, and we'll go in without Podolski, Cazorla, Ox, Diaby, Sanogo, or Walcott. However, Arteta and Vermaelen will be available, but having played on Wednesday, will probably ride the bench.

At the risk of picking at scabs before they've fully healed, Carl Jenkinson played the full match against West Brom, which implies that he might be rested on Saturday, good news considering how he was undressed against Swansea in that infamous 2-0 loss last December. Mertesacker and Vermaelen also played the full match, which poses some interesting questions. Should we see Koscielny and Sagna as center-backs with Jenkinson on the right, or should we see some combination of Koscielny-Mertesacker-Vermaelen in the center with Sagna on the right? I might opt for the latter option, starting with Kos and Per flanked by Gibbs and Sagna. In front of them, we should see Ramsey and Flamini. The leadership and command that Flamini has established already has been a minor revelation of sorts, and Ramsey, well, what more can be said about the form he's currently in? In front of those two, we should see Wilshere, Özil, and Gnabry. Before you slap your forehead over Gnabry, ruing his performance against West Brom, remember a few factors: one, he played 73 minutes against Stoke the previous Saturday; two, the squad was a mish-mash of Academy and first-teamers that lacked continuity; and three, his spot-kick was actually decent although blocked. Of course, his fitness could be a concern, playing his third match in seven days, but we can hope that youth is an advantage in that regard. With Özil adjusting nicely to life in the Prem, Gnabry, Giroud, and Wilshere should see plenty of chances, especially if Swansea's defense is a bit unsettled by the potential absence of Williams, not to mention the dispiriting effect of having lost mid-week to abruptly end Swansea's title-defense.

As we consider positions and players, having Gnabry and Wilshere in the attacking midfield suggests that Giroud's role in the striker-position will be vital. Özil's first Prem assist did come, after all, with Giroud on the other end, and with Giroud's emerging penchant for going near-post to score, look to Özil to find Giroud a number of times in or around the box. After a strong start to the season saw Giroud score five goals in six matches, he's been quiet in his last two appearances but may again find the scoring touch as he roams the penalty area, from which all eleven of our Prem goals have come. Özil has already created more clear-cut chances (10) than any other player in the Prem, and he should find plenty of space to add to that number against Swansea, who play an attacking style similar to ours albeit with less technical ability. With questions about their defense, the Özil-Giroud axis could prove to be the difference in this match.

For as much as we may have underestimated Swansea last December, we've since won twice and drawn once against them and look ready to improve on that account on Saturday. I'm going out on a limb to predict two goals for Giroud, one of them assisted by Giroud, in yet another 3-1 win for Arsenal. Make your own prediction in the comments section below—thanks!