It’s a return to action in the Premier League for Arsenal at Ashburton Grove after two consecutive away games. The last game played here was the North London Derby and that seemed like such a long time ago. Of course, the results also dictates how we feel. Had we gone on a winning run since pummelling Tottenham, we might have felt that the days were shorter but by not being on a winning run, it definitely made the days seemed longer.
Swansea comes into this game with a different manager than the last time the visited this part of London. Michael Laudrup has taken over from Brendan Rogers who has upped his roots and move to Anfield. Swansea were many people’s 2nd team in the Premier League last season. They played a vibrant attacking brand of football that was very pleasing to watch. The fact that a club who’s playing in the Premier League for the first time, was so unafraid and stayed true to their playing style, rightly earned all the admiration and plaudits.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Swansea do this season. There’s that second year syndrome which cannot be underestimated. Players could get complacent and not work as hard as they do the last time around. Other teams might be more wary of the way they play and the element of surprise is no longer with Swansea. Then, you also take into account that the manager who brought them up has also left and replaced by a manager who’s never managed in England before. Laudrup was a brilliant creative genius in his playing days but have not quite hit the same heights in a suit.
To his credit, the change seemed seamless. Just one spot behind us in 8th, they have maintained the brand of football that we all loved to watch last season. Not only that, they have also added to their ranks players with undeniable talents. Laudrup put his contacts in Spain to good use by recruiting the likes of Michu and Pablo Hernandez from right under everyone’s nose and at an unbelievable price too. The former Valencia man in Hernandez will not be available today but Swansea have other attacking options that could trouble us. Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer must be contained from wide positions while our midfielders will have to be aware of Michu’s movements.
With the latest injury to Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen is a certainty to move back to the centre of defence. The captain has not been in the best of forms this season and playing at left back would not help him to improve in that regards as well. 3 weeks without the threat of Koscielny breathing down his neck and hopefully the Belgian will respond to the challenge and get his game back to the level that we know he’s capable of. While it might help one player, it could hurt another. Kieran Gibbs was forced to come on early in the Everton game for Koscielny. Initially thought to be eased back into the side but has now played almost 2 full 90 minutes in just 5 days’ time. Given his injury record, it would be a big folly on my part not to fear for him. Hopefully he can ride it out because the current situation doesn’t give us any other options.
Bigger question arise for Arsene Wenger in other areas of the pitch. Some players looked jaded in midweek and in fact, in the Aston Villa game prior to that as well. Does he take the risk and give these players some time on the bench knowing full well that we cannot allow any more slip-ups? I don’t envy his job. It’s the toughest balancing act in football. When to play them and when to give them a break. One of which decision could backfire on you. My personal opinion? I don’t like to risk players’ health for the sake of one result but with the pointless game away to Olympiakos next, I’d say start the players that we consider our best.
That should mean no rest for the likes of Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud. Theo Walcott was said to have played the second half injured, against Everton. Don’t ask me why he was kept on the pitch, despite picking up an injury. In any case, if he misses out today, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should come into the game. Though, I’m not opposed to seeing Andrey Arshavin getting a rare start in the league. After all, he did score the winning goal in the corresponding fixture last season. Lukas Podolski could also beat his illness and make a speedy recovery back to the starting line-up. To be perfectly honest, I’d rather have a half sick Podolski on the left hand side than a fully fit and healthy Gervinho.
Today’s game could turn out to be a very watch-able game if Swansea doesn’t change their style too much just to stop the flow of our game. It’s the start of 10 games (11 if we beat Bradford) from now until the middle of January 2013 that are very winnable, all of them. Run of fixtures that we should not waste, to get as many points as possible, to put us thereabouts come the turn of the year. Let’s start with this one.
Up The Arsenal.