25 March 2014

Sorry, Swansea, but your timing couldn't be worse.

Well, the dust has settled from thecarnage of Saturday’s Stampede at Stamford Bridge. Thank god that there’s another match waiting, if only to get us Gooners off of each other's case as we bicker and squabble over whose fault it was, who's a real fan, and just how much longer we'll endure/enjoy Arsène as our manager. The loss to Chelsea may have split certain fissures wider apart than ever, but it also laid to rest one dream: barring major collapses from Chelsea and Man City, we won't be winning the Prem this year. We can and must, however, solidify our position in the top four with a win on Tuesday. For some, that won't be enough despite it being an improvement on last year's skin-of-our-teeth fourth-place finish. Still, all is not yet lost. 

After all, there's still quite a lot to play for. Instead of backing into the top four, we can fight for a 3rd or even 2nd place finish, qualifying for the Champions League outright instead of the play-off round. A win on Tuesday over Swansea would restore some confidence going forward, a quality that seems in woefully short supply, at least as gauged by fellow Gooners. It's therefore timely that we face Swansea, a match rescheduled to make room for our FA Cup quarterfinal match against Everton, the one that we won 4-1 to advance to the semifinal. Sadly, winning the FA Cup may not quite satisfy a fair number of Gooners, even if it's the self-same trophy we last won almost ten years ago. Should we win it, some of the more-finicky fans will sniff and suggest, "well, yes, but we beat Hull (or Sheffield United)" as if this diminishes the run we've gone on to get there, beating Spuds, Liverpool, Coventry, and Everton (and, it's hoped, cup-holders Wigan). There's just no pleasing some.

However, we have a Prem fixture in front of us. Had we faced Swansea a few weeks ago, we might nothave this match as a distraction and potential salve from the undressing at Stamford Bridge. I don’t mean to suggest that the match will offer us quick and easy relief—though Swansea’s own struggles pervade far deeper, with no wins in their last eight matches dating back to 8 February, and they now sit precariously above the drop-zone, currently four points clear of Sunderland, but Sunderland hold two games in hand. With this in mind, the Swans look like one of those teams with desperation on their minds. Given our current fragile state, it would be better for us if they were a number of points higher or lower, so as to reassure them one way or another of their position for next year.

Speaking before Tuesday’s clash, Arsène did not mince words or seek to displace blame, saying, “it all went wrong and I take full responsibility. It is my fault that we failed completely today because we did not turn up.” However, he was quick to remind us all of the importance of Tuesday, adding, “what is important now is that we show we have the capacity to respond, despite that disappointment, on Tuesday night.” A win against Swansea will do little to change the dynamics of the Prem; our chances of winning are all but gone. However, it’s vital that we find a way to regain confidence going forward, if only to build momentum for the final run-in. Without underestimating them, the Swans look to have come along at an ideal time. Gone is the attacking style of last season, and gone too is Michael Laudrup, but many of the other names remain the same.

More of a concern than what Swansea brings to the pitch will be what we bring. Will our players be nervous, shell-shocked, humiliated? Or will they be determined, focused, ferocious? I have to think that everyone involved will be eager to seize every opportunity to put behind them the various failures that led to Saturday's 6-0 scoreline, whether these were strategic, tactical, positional, or otherwise. There's a lot of pride on the line, not to mention a fair amount still to play for, and I fancy a 3-0 win to the Arsenal, with goals from Gnabry, Giroud, and Rosický. A dark-hose to sneak one in? Thomas Vermaelen, playing for the injured Laurent Koscielny.

Wherever the goals come from, I believe the lads will answer the call.