Arsenal 1-0 Swansea City: Recovery, One Step at a Time

Programming Note: This and all future match reports until the first week of October will be up on Mondays, rather than the usual early-next-morning timeframe. I am without internet/cable at home due to having just moved and Verizon being backed up, so I can only do these at work. FYI.

It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't easy on the nerves. However, a still-gelling Arsenal squad managed to do just enough to see off the challenge of the newly-promoted Welsh side and grab three desperately-needed points. While it may not have been the demolition job everyone was calling for, it was an instance in which the Arsenal finally got some fortuitous bounces and, even better, took advantage of them. Coming off the heels of THAT game against the Manks, that's probably all that can be asked for.

As it turns out, I missed the first 15 minutes thanks to the vagaries of New York public transportation and the fact that I'm still getting the timing down of when I have to leave to make it on time. By all accounts, Swansea's Danny Graham had a glorious chance to score inside the 8th minute, but was repelled by a fantastic save from Wojceich Szczesny. What can you say about our young custodian? He defies superlatives at times, and he's only 21. Previous to that, Aaron Ramsey also had a fine chance to score, but couldn't get his effort on target. We'll have to be patient with him, I'm afraid - it's obvious that he's still not at his pre-injury levels yet.

Theo Walcott also cleared one off the line, as the Swans showed their attacking verve in the early exchanges. Given their own struggles (compounded with ours), it's no surprise that they intended to get on the front foot early and sneak an early goal. How important Szczesny's early save seems now, in retrospect!

The Gunners got more into the game after the initial quarter-hour, but a breakthrough seemed unlikely. Swansea marries Blackpool's attacking intent with a slightly less suicidal defensive strategy, and Arsenal didn't make things difficult for them either. Once again, the build-up play was fine, but the lack of a final killer ball was telling. Primarily, Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Frimpong were careless with their passing and continually lost possession.

However, the good news is that Per Mertesacker has fit in well on the backline, and we looked far more composed in that department. Laurent Koscielny was also strong on the day, making several key saving tackles in our own area. Mertesacker contributed with one excellent interception that I remember, as well as some blocked shots. With Thomas Vermelaen out with a long-term injury, this developing Mert-ielny partnership is one to keep an eye on.

As the half wound down, Swansea gifted us a goal in truly bizarre fashion. A Walcott shot from just outside the penalty area deflected off a defender and ballooned way up and to the keeper's right. Swansea netminder Michel Vorm came out and comfortably collected. He held for a second, and then looked to release his right-back Angel Rangel with a rolled pass. However, Rangel was not expecting it, and it hit the back of his legs. It fell to the unmarked Andrei Arshavin out on the wing, and make no mistake, he still had a job to do to finish given the highly acute angle. Thankfully he made no mistake, Vorm's despairing dive nowhere near it. As I said to Brett after the celebrations: "It's about time we got a little good luck, isn't it?"

It is indeed.

The funny thing is, Vorm is an excellent goalkeeper. He acquitted himself well for FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie, and has been capped by the Netherlands 5 times. Getting him was something of a coup for a club like Swansea...but it just goes to show that even a solid player can make a horrific mistake in any given game. Again, for Arsenal to get a gift from a keeper of this quality was beyond lucky, but you know what? We deserved it after all of the misfortune that has visited us in the last few seasons.

It would have been nice to use that momentum to really take it to the visitors after the freak go-ahead goal, but it just didn't come off. It didn't help that Mikel Arteta and Arshavin faded somewhat after strong starts, or that Gibbs and Frimpong continued to struggle. However, special mention has to go to Walcott, who once again offered absolutely nothing in his time on the pitch. I want to see him do well and I still feel like there's a decent footballer somewhere in there. But, if you look at his overall Arsenal career and the skill sets that he's shown, isn't he just an even lighter-weight Shaun Wright-Phillips with slightly better one-v-one finishing ability? He can't take on a man, he hasn't beaten someone with the ball at his feet in living memory, and he's not much of a crosser. A starvation victim could muscle him off the ball, and he doesn't offer much protection for the fullback out on the wing. What does he offer again, short of the occasional nice finish?

My point is, he's a luxury player on a team chock full of them.

Anyway, he melted down at referee Stuart Attwell (who had a shocker, in fairness...he has obviously caught a bad case of Phil Dowd Disease, the primary symptoms being losing control of games, showing yellow cards for innocuous challenges and making truly head-scratching decisions at times), and nearly got himself sent off for dissent after taking a yellow card out of frustration. The only reason he wasn't substituted was that too many others tired out early...I can only hope that someone like Yossi Benayoun is out on the right tomorrow against Borussia Dortmund, as Walcott has done little to deserve his ongoing place in the side at present.

Beyond that, not a whole lot happened. Swansea hit the bar with a free kick, though Szczesny wasn't that far away and probably would have saved it anyway. Arsenal had a few half-chances, but nothing that caused Vorm any undue bother. Another frustration: I know we're not a team that shoots from distance, but when a keeper makes a true howler like Vorm did to give us the goal, why wouldn't you shoot from anywhere and everywhere until you get a real sense of where his head is at?

At the other end, Szczesny completely dominated his area, and swallowed up any cross or set piece that came his way. Once again, he was fantastic and absolutely got us three points that a Manuel Almunia would not have gotten us.

Slightly after the hour, Arshavin was withdrawn for Benayoun. The Israeli man didn't change much on offense, but he was full of running and put in a shift defensively. I thought to myself that it was almost Ray Parlour-esque, which is something that this team has been badly missing. Ten minutes later, Frimpong was mercifully removed in favor of Francis Coquelin. Coquelin didn't have that much to do, but didn't take anything off the table either. So, definite improvement there.

The match wore on, and Attwell booked a few more Gunners for breathing and/or continued cardio-vascular activity. I was honestly stunned that the streak of red cards was finally halted by the end of 90 minutes.

As the last 10 minutes came up, the anonymous Robin van Persie was taken off in favor of Marouane Chamakh. While the Moroccan didn't score, he at least looked livelier than usual and had a good chance towards the end. Gibbs crossed it in and Chamakh connected well with the header. Unfortunately, Vorm was there and caught it to boot. A wonderful save from the Dutch keeper, but at least it was signs of life from our backup striker.

Just as it looked like the game would be comfortably seen out, Arsenal had to give us our customary moment of heart failure. Szczesny came for a corner in injury time, and missed it completely. The defense were at sixes and sevens (in this case, I don't blame them - they had to have banked on the Pole claiming it), and Graham had a glorious chance to atone for his missed chance in the early exchanges. Six yards out, the goal gaping...and he Chris Iwulemo'ed it over the crossbar.

Fuck me, that took at least six months off of my life.

You know what, though? Once again, it's about time that this kind of thing went our way instead of the other mob's. We were bloody due...end of story. Swings and roundabouts, kids.

The miss destroyed any resistance the Swans had left, and the final whistle was met with jubilation both at Ashburton Grove and a small little pub in Union Square. We can't make up for the end of last season and the beginning of this one all in one's going to take some time and some doing. This was the first halting baby-step.

Obviously, Dortmund away is going to be a much different proposition than Swansea at home. But, at least there is some distance now between us and THAT game, so hopefully the team can go in and take advantage of the Germans' own indifferent start to the league campaign.

Come on, you Gunners!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8 (MOTM) - Gibbs 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 7 - Arshavin 7 (Benayoun 7), Ramsey 6, Frimpong 5 (Coquelin 6), Arteta 6, Walcott 5 - van Persie 6 (Chamakh N/A)