Monday, 16 January 2012

Swansea City v Arsenal. Liberty Stadium.15 1 12. Match Report

Swans will tear us apart
It's all a case of Geometry.

When Ian Curtis of Joy Division left us some years back, he left us a legacy, and a lasting one, at that. Not only was that particular piece a song that endures along with other modern classics, it came to represent, for us, a way of playing, even, dare we think it, a lifestyle.

That the East Stand choral JackArmy used it again on Sunday, was no more or less appropriate than that it got the other, more reticent, parts of the ground to want to take part too, which they did, to increasingly better effect.

That was just part of Sunday's experience which got me thinking on just Why is "Live" Football so much better than the TV? That, coupled with later the excellent Lee Dixon's appreciation of Swansea's angular, geometric phases, with a particular emphasis on the triangles.

I have a feeling that most people reading this will prefer "Live" games to the immaculately presented, efficiently edited highlights package that we get from MOTD and the "Championship Show", both of which we get from the Beeb. Similarly, "Goals on Sunday" from ITV and even "Football First" from Sky suffer in comparison to actual attendance at a match. Whatever your club, whatever your level, it just is not the same.

No shame there, and I certainly am not aiming any sort of criticism at anyone unable, or unwilling even, to go to the game.I first started to ponder this after a game against the Champions, Man Utd, some weeks back, when my team, Swansea City, had entertained, but lost, and, coincidentally or not, had both entertained and frustrated, because particularly, we were both competing and matching against the very best.

The games since then we've been involved in have further strengthened that preference for live, including Tottenham at Home, Villa Away, and this past Sunday, Arsenal - at the Liberty no less.

The past week had seen Thierry Henry remind us of his capabilities in changing games, and gone on to change a Carling Cup fixture for Arsenal. Not only that, at Man Utd., Paul Scholes played a part in both their Derby Cup win v City, but at yesterday's coast home v Bolton , he scored, as well. Where's Lee Trundle when we need him., eh. Oh well, perhaps a little far fetched.

Whatever, with this fixture one for the football purists, of which I'm proud to count myself a member, both tabloid and broadsheet media had done us proud with a whole series of flattering articles in their pages at the back end of the week. Many of those self same journalists were present, perhaps confirming for the first real time that the National Press and more were paying attention.

What would we get to see?

Sky had scheduled us for the first time as the main game on a Super Sunday, and I'm delighted now to say we didn't let either they, or the nation, down. We were all treated to a vibrant, exciting and open display from both teams, guaranteed to make the Sunday audience sit up and take some notice.

The Referee was the top rated Michael Oliver, a poster boy for the new generation, and one that I've always rated above some of the more traditional we've met this year. His performance can be measured in the stat that there were no bookings yesterday. Good to see.

All at the Stadium were rewarded with a whole plethora of talent on display, including personnel with those intriguing storylines, most of which played out on the immaculate surface, with the promise of more, much more, to come.

There had, incidentally, been some questions asked of the pitch because the Ospreys played at Home only on Friday night, but Dan Duffy had done his stuff, and he and his team had again prepared a surface that allowed the game to grace the occasion. After the game, Arsene Wenger did himself no favours in having a go both at the surface and the referee, of which more later.

For this game the line ups were as follows.........
01 Vorm,02 Williams,03 Taylor,04 Caulker,22 Rangel,07 Britton,11 Sinclair,12 Dyer (Routledge 81),24 Allen,26 Agustien (Sigurdsson 46),10 Graham (Lita 90+3)
25 Tremmel,16 Monk,15 Routledge,29 Richards,42 Sigurdsson,18 Lita,19 Moore
13 Szczesny,04 Mertesacker (Oxlade-Chamberlain 77),06 Koscielny,20 Djourou,49 Miquel,14 Walcott,16 Ramsey,17 Song,23 Arshavin (Henry 63),30 Benayoun (Rosicky 63),10 Van Persie
01 Almunia,18 Squillaci,07 Rosicky,15 Oxlade-Chamberlain,56 Yennaris,09 Park Chu-Young,12 Henry

Brendan had seen fit to go with a side that many fans predicted, whilst M Wenger followed suit, allowing only for Mikel Arteta's absence through injury.

Most will know my contention that we are nowadays on occasion lucky enough to see World Class players performing on our own pitch, and that it takes but a couple of minutes watching to realize you're seeing something special.

The early minutes of the game confirmed this when, after a patiently probing intro from both sides, Arsenal went up a gear.

Alex Song took possession and put Andrei Arshavin on a promising run, in from the left for once and he, in going forward, noticed Van Persie some 20yds further forward, and cleverly holding his run such that he wasn't to be offside. Both Williams and Caulker, Swansea's CB's both realized this spelled danger, and Caulker did well to push towards Arshavin's slotted pass, and force Van Persie wider but in on goal in the inside right channel.

It seemed at first as if Caulker would surely block any attempt, but Van Persie produced a bit of magic that Dynamo, Magician Impossible would have been proud of.

As he shaped to shoot, he threw in a dummy that forced both Caulker, and Vorm, at the near post, to commit. He then held his shot back just a fraction, and Caulker's lunge and Vorm's good placement were worthless as he drilled the ball between Vorm's body and the near post. 1-0. I felt as if I had been pickpocketed.

From Vorm's look to Caulker and back, I suspect they did too.How had he done it? World class level,that's how. If you get the chance, watch and learn.

RVP wheeled away, as if to say "it's just another thing I do, innit", and both me and my immediate West Standers looked at each other, thinking, "bloody hell. that was good".

Would this blazing start put us back into our place?

When you concede early in such a fashion to a good team, it's natural to think it's going to be hard to get back in. However, Swansea have shown in the last few weeks particularly, that they are made of sterner stuff. They came back by firstly re-iterating that imperative - getting hold of, and keeping, the ball.

As in their better performances, it was being zipped about the park, with both pace and appropriate tempo.

The game continued to fascinate till the 15th minute when Joe Allen, clear on the left, turned back inside and slid a decent ball across the box to Dyer, 12 yds out. With his back to goal, Dyer flicked and turned, only to be lightly scraped by Ramsey on the ankle, but enough to send him down, and Michael Oliver to award the penalty. Harsh?- maybe: Penalty?- Yes.

Wenger later complained that "it was not a penalty", which only confirms for me that Monsieur "I didn't see it" has eyes slanted in his own, suitable direction.

Szczesny will have done his research, 90% of Sinclair's penalties go to the Keeper's left. This one did too, the difference being that the pace and accuracy of his side foot drive was good enough to beat the despairing dive. 1-1, and the roof of the building shook.

When you're in a game against a "top-4" side and you spend the rest of the half not only competing as equals but showing your undoubted capability to the watching TV audience, it doesn't half make one feel proud. The Swans football was the equal of the Arse, passing and moving to better phases, with the middle three of Agustien, Britton and Allen to the fore.

A personal confession here. Normally, when I'm watching the Swans, I'm as tense as a taut piano spring. What was going on? I was smiling contentedly as I watched the past Masters, as I've seen them described, give way to the pass masters. Because, thrillingly, that's what we are, and that's what we're playing like.

Mind you, when I start giggling uncontrollably, which I did later in the game, you know it's time to kick me into touch, if only not to attract any bad karma. It CAN, and HAS, happened - to most of us I don't doubt.

Up until the break, both sides had threatened, with Arsenal forced to go round a defending Caulker which squeezed the move into inaction, and later a bounce into Vorm's hand from Ramsey's effort via Caulker/Williams . Van Persie was also bravely stopped in a one on one by a sharp Vorm from a through ball.

Caulker's header from a corner drifted near the junction of post and bar, and Dyer stung Szczesny's palms after cutting by Miquel again and drilling a left foot shot at the keeper.

The half continued to thrill end to end, offering the watching crowd, another club sell out record at 20409, a superb spectacle, and the tunes of Joy Division, with Max Boyce Hymns 'n Arias also prominent, echoing through all the stands to give an atmosphere redolent of a Cup-Tie, with the East curving choristers prominent in leading.

As we contemplated the outcome at half time, one of my close companions offered the thought that he'd like to see us push for even more in the second half.

The Swans were performing to a man, whereas for Arsenal, one or two had struggled and it was sad to see the talent of Arshavin almost shot to pieces from lack of confidence- a reminder that even "superstars" suffer.

BR's tinkering saw him introduce Gylfi Sigurdsson at the break for Kemy Agustien. This is a point where it's as well to think about the real meaning of having an astute Manager at the helm,. The Dutchman had been an integral part of the MF unit that had gradually exerted more and more control, allowing Allen, Britton and he, Agustien, to assume prominence over Song, Benayoun and Ramsey in an influential display.

However, Brendan had recognized that in Sigurdsson, Swansea would have the further advantage of a Playmaker/Creator as opposed to a MF grafter/worker available now for the adventure a team gets from looking forward, as opposed to containing.

His many touches and clever probing on-the-ball allied to his further pressure on the defenders slightly higher up the field, and was hugely influential. I thought this was the major tactical change that, enhanced by all round aggression and confidence, got Swansea on top eventually.

The danger was confirmed when this midfield business led to Allen robbing Ramsey on 57m from this very high press, and feeding Dyer on the right just outside the area, and cleverly free of his man, Miquel, who had wandered 10yds forward. Dyer controlled, got it out from his feet, and crashed a shot past Szczesny and in. 2-1, and a dagger to Arsenal hearts.

Some heads dropped, and it was no surprise to see Henry and Rosicky, a double substitution, introduced on 63m for Arshavin and Benayoun.

Sinclair and Dyer were by now confirming the threat for Arsenal at full back, and Miquel and Djourou were struggling to contain them. Graham and Sigurdsson too were more and more able to drag Swansea's marauding FB's further up to join in and progress the wide raids but just suddenly, on 69m, Arsenal got a lifeline.

From such a raid, Swansea switched from Rangel on the right diagonally out to the left where, for once, the ball was intercepted by Djourou before it could find Sinclair, and his astute, immediate, early ball down the right found Walcott able to exploit Taylor by running beyond him and drawing Vorm from the goal to cooly chip a high speed quality finish to complete the break.

2-2, and whilst the Gooners beyond the goal celebrated noisily, Swansea proved what we all know- a team really is most vulnerable just after it scores.

Immediately from the kick off, competition for the ball on the right at half way led to the FB Miquel being drawn to compete, and from a series of one -two's, Lee Dixon's highlighted Triangles from later analysis, the ball went to Sigurdsson just inside the half. He beautifully illustrated the value of a top class creator in the Playmaker role by curling a cushioned impact through ball first time beyond the struggling Koscielny, and into the path of Danny Graham, who had timed his run perfectly.

The ball, nurtured forward by Graham drew Szczesny toward it, but Graham's exquisite instinctive decision to finish took his shot perfectly across the keeper to nestle neatly into the far corner. 3-2, and within a minute, the terrific move meant the Swans were deservedly back in front.

The noise was deafening as we Swans all danced a jig and reminded the Gooners that they'd "only come to watch the Swans". Perhaps some of them had - it certainly sounds like it from today's sport radio.

I'm hearing a whole stream of London's finest (and beyond) not only praise Swansea for the quality of football, but castigate AW and their players loudly and vehemently. Adrian Durham, talkSport's pit-bull, is like a dog with two tails. A very happy pixie, but since he's delighting in the misfortunes of others more than analyzing the game, you'll excuse me if I don't join in the goading.

I prefer the analysis of the aforementioned Lee Dixon ( a previous Arsenal player who KNEW how to defend), when he pointed out on MOTD2 last night Swansea's penchant for geometric syncopation in their confident retention of the ball. It was certainly on show yesterday.

For the remainder of the game, Arsenal's desperation was illustrated by their final substitution - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the young winger, replacing the statuesque Per Mertesacker who had just, from a corner, slashed a decent chance wide.

Incidentally, I know he comes with a burgeoning reputation and in his brief cameo yesterday looked dangerous, does the OX as he's known have a propensity to carry a bit of timber? Seems to me he's an endomorph more than an ectomorph (despite being small), and like Gascoigne and Rooney before him, his rear end can appear a little bulky.

The other sad thing really was Thierry Henry - seeing this once great footballer fall out with his own fans at the end whilst appearing to be "carrying a couple of shopping bags" is not how I'll choose to remember him.

There were still chances for both teams- DG squaring to Rangel on another almost successful foray, and our own Michel Vorm parrying Rosicky's drive, and then springing cat-like up to catch Koscielny's follow up, but in truth, Swansea 's superior possession football held them in good stead, even through the 4m Fergie-time.

Truth is, the Swans had shown that they were equally as likely as Arsenal to score again, and the 3-2 final result saw a delightful outburst of glee and satisfaction, as the crowd gave it some Levellers.

Looking back at the game now from a calmed down perspective it seems fair to make these comments.

There had been GB and MB speculation on whether we could down our first "BIG BEAST". We did, and we did it with some style. The respective Manager's press conferences (they can be seen here), only served to confirm that the display was NOT some sort of aberration, a Chimera even - it had been one of superiority overall confirmed by not only both Match statistics and the Pundits generally, but the evidence of our own eyes.

The performance will send us to the North-East to face MoN's revitalized Sunderland - a different team to the one we faced at the Liberty and likely to be a hard task. Then of course, we come back to the Lib to see if we can bag ourselves another trophy-opponent not, I hasten to add, for anything other than the desperately important 3 points on offer - although the feel good factor of these types of win is immeasurable and influential too, I think.

As many will know, I'm a Twitter aficionado (some would leave out the second word- who cares). Over the ether, last night, it was genuinely encouraging and hugely enjoyable to bask in the reflected glow of a superb Swansea City team performance and win. It felt like a crucial stage in the season and a significant mark achieved.

It still does.

#TwitterJacks and #SwanseaCity posts were a real pleasure to read, and in marked contrast to some bile being spilled by some so-called Gooner "fans" who were only keen to call out their own team, evidenced earlier by Henry's spat with one of his own. That's the ugly side of this pleasurable experience, although I know one thing, and it's this....

I KNOW there will be corresponding lows to temper the highs that we are experiencing at the moment. There always are. Ah well, C'est la Vie. And a rather good one, just now.

Onward, Swansea City.

It's a real treat to write about your own Club when it's playing this well. But hey, it's a real treat to write about the Swans anyway. See you later this week.

And, a genuinely warm welcome to the fantastic talent that is Josh McEachran, a player who will be allowed to flourish and grow. Welcome to Swansea City Josh, from all Jacks, please enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading that! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Top report again. Thanks

Anonymous said...

What if Arsenil had been given a pen under the same circumstances?

Anonymous said...

Another great post match report and thanks again for your effort. I know that this match we were privelaged to be live on Sky, but I don't know how you manage to take so much detail from the games and then to report on said games in such informative style with just the right amount of bias so as not to make it unrealistic.
One point however, I'm not so sure that Enry was aving a go at the Gooner fans, he seemed in good enough spirits considering the lesson in good open play football that his team had just been given. Was still a pleasure to see some of his moves that he makes look so easy.
Great report though and many thanks for your time and effort.