06 November 2014

Swansea-Arsenal preview: release the hounds!

So. Judging by the reactions to our midweek draw with Anderlecht, we're doomed. We've lost the plot. We're rubbish. Worse, there's little we can do about it until January, by which time we may have crashed out of the Champions League, perhaps even the FA Cup, and we might be chasing fifth place in the Prem if we don't mind our p's and q's. If this draw with Anderlecht is anything to go by, we'll be lucky to qualify for the Europa League. It's just our luck, then, that we have to travel to Liberty Stadium to face one of the Prem's stoutest defenses, one led by a former Gunner who might savor a chance to remind us of his quality—Lukas Fabiański.

Run, Ox,, run! See Ox run...
You might remember Fabiański. Polish lad. Keeper. Prone to errors. Also prone to making key saves in FA Cup shootouts. Well, he's gone on to help Swansea to a strong start to the Prem season, claiming five clean sheets from ten appearances, building to some extent on his success with us in our charge towards winning the FA Cup. With him between the sticks, Swansea have conceded the second-fewest goals at home (3), bettered only by Southampton's one.

And yet, Swansea don't seem to offer much in attack. With only eight goals scored at home, they've somehow managed to outscore Liverpool (5) and Tottenham (6). As a result, we should have little to fear from them—unless we play as we did in the last 30 minutes against Anderlecht when we allowed our own sloppy defending to gift three goals to an inferior opponent.

We were victims to our own success perhaps, after romping to a three-goal lead that seemed to flatter our opponents. We might have enjoyed a 5-0 or 6-0 scoreline had we done better with the chances we carved out. Still, there are a few lessons to be drawn going forward:

  • Don't be drawn in by the siren-song of posssesion.
    Did you see Oxlade-Chamberlain burst forward in that 60th minute? Wasn't it glorious? It should remind us some of the headier days under Arsène when opponents would press up the pitch, hoping in vain for a chance, only to see us pour forward and score with lightening-speed. We have the personnel to pull this off. In other words, let Swansea have the ball and creep forward. That's just more space behind for the likes of Alexis, Ox, and Walcott to run into.
  • Defend as a team.
    We attack with seven or eight players, with the wide defenders offering width, and this exposes us to counter-attacks, all the more so when Monreal has to play CB, Chambers is still acclimating, and Flamini is our best bet at shielding the back four. Following from the previous point, we should see more defensive commitment from the midfield—Cazorla and Ramsey, especially—in order to launch quicker counter-attacks.
  • Make tactical adjustments.
    Assuming that the first two points bear fruit and we do find a way to unlock Swansea's defense, we have to adjust. Against Anderlecht, we (a) didn't have enough defensively-minded players available to send in, and (b) didn't change our style of play to the situation at hand. If we can indeed seize the lead, why shouldn't we change formation, personnel, and tactics? It almost makes too much sense. Get that first goal and send in Bellerin for Alexis and shift to a 5-4-1? Unorthodox, perhaps, but hardly unprecedented...
Sunday's match is pregnant with portents: lose, and Swansea overtake us, however briefly. Win, and potentially draw level with Man City (they'd have to lose to QPR. Stranger things have happened...). It would be all too easy for us and the lads to respond to Tuesday's result with depression, if not despair, and worry that we'll wither against the Welsh. Instead, I sense that we'll respond with grim determination, erasing the embarrassment against Anderlecht with something far-more invigorating, something that will serve as a springboard against Man U and Dortmund in coming weeks.

Am I mad? Have I taken leave of my senses, or am I onto something?