Arsenal 1-0 Swansea City: Moment of Magic

Arsenal spent 80 minutes politely knocking on Swansea City's door, an endeavor that shouldn't have been necessary with a 2-1 lead after a similar timeframe in the last game. That didn't work, so the Man Who Should Be Captain took a sledgehammer to the thing, ensuring safe passage to Brighton & Hove Albion in the 4th round.

The starting lineup was an interesting one. Olivier Giroud led the line, with Theo Walcott on the wing, along with Santi Cazorla. That is the first I can remember of the little Spaniard not playing through the center, Jack Wilshere occupying that role on the night. Abou Diaby got another start, Francis Coquelin beside him.

I am usually the first to criticize the manager when he gets it wrong, but he got it right today. Diaby and Coquelin protected the back four well, and gave the attacking players a platform from which to work. The Gunners largely dominated the match, though it should be noted that the Swans didn't foster much resistance. Michael Laudrup decided to rest Michu, and his team in turn had no focus to the few attacks they mustered.

The early exchanges were subdued, but eventually Arsenal took the initiative. They may not have been the fully-fluent Arsenal at their best - they may have forgotten some of the words, but the melody was there. Swansea's midfield was non-existent, but their backline kept our forwards corralled. It didn't help our cause that the final ball was consistently poor as well.

Giroud and Walcott both could have done better with early chances, but it was nothing to keep Michel Vorm up at night.

How different would this match have been though if Swansea had put away their best chance of the match in the 26th minute? Wayne Routledge was given far too much space to cross by Bacary Sagna, which has been a weakness of our marking scheme all season. The former Arsenal man Kyle Bartley badly torched Thomas Vermaelen, but his free header luckily hit the crossbar.

Speaking of the captain, his woeful run of form continued. Sure, he had two nice slide tackles in the first half, but his positioning was spotty and he contributed to some heart-in-mouth moments. Several minutes after losing Bartley, he went up for a corner and could have had a good chance had he executed a simple chest trap. The ball ballooned up in the air instead, the opportunity going with it. Later, he would have a better chance, again on a corner. A freak deflection off of Per Mertesacker came to him with the goal at his mercy. He could only shovel a weak shot at Vorm's legs.

What has happened to The Verminator?

Swansea found their sea legs in the latter stages of the first half, but could not fashion any chances for all of their possession. It's nice for that old boot to be on the other foot for once, isn't it? They had an awful time dealing with the Arsenal midfield, who harried them at every opportunity and forced them into a series of giveaways and poor passes.

They weren't the only ones who needed to recalibrate their passing sights, though. Cazorla had his share of misfires, though I think that's down to two things: First, the manager has played him into the ground. Second, much of the time, he plays a ball into space for the target to run onto. His teammates tend to expect it to come to their feet, which of course is part of why we're in offensive stasis so often these days. It's all so static and stationary. 

It has to be said though that Diaby was not any of those s-words. Some of the rust is starting to come off, and his range of passing is improving as well. Early in the second half, he arced a lovely effort over the top to the onrushing Walcott. He was one-on-one with Vorm, and while he was lightly pushed in the back, he should have done much better than a tame dribbler wide.

There were times where it looked like Vorm had a forcefield around his six-yard box. A great spell of pressure from Arsenal on the hour mark should have seen the Dutch keeper picking the ball out of his net, but it ended in more frustration. Coquelin won the ball in midfield, and Wilshere's resulting shot was blocked. The ensuring corner was half-cleared to the excellent Kieran Gibbs, the England man keeping it in with a dazzling bit of footwork along the sideline. Wilshere's second crack was clawed out by Vorm, but the rebound came to the open Walcott. He had time to chest it down and poke it in, but his flying Bruce Lee kick was instead cleared off the line.

Frankly, Walcott was putrid and should have been substituted early in the second stanza. The fact that he wasn't is entirely down to the manager consenting to allow his team selections to be held hostage as part of the contract negotiations. I don't know if this guy is worth it - I've yo-yoed on that point for weeks with no signs of slowing.

His teammates were far more incisive though, Wilshere in particular swashbuckling forward and causing no end of panic. Here was a player leading by example. Meanwhile, Walcott latched onto another long ball, again worked himself some space, and again arced a soft effort wide. I can't help thinking that a player really worth 90,000 a week would have killed this game off long before this point.

For his part, Laudrup decided to replace the ineffectual Danny Graham with Michu, sending shivers down Gooner spines worldwide. Thankfully, the prolific Spaniard never found the rhythm of the match and remained safely on the periphery. The ball was mostly in the visitors' half anyway, Vorm called into action several times on long-range tracers.

His counterpart Wojceich Szczesny could have read a magazine for long stretches of the contest, but he did have to be alert in the 80th minute when Ki Seung-Yung made space on Diaby and fired a long-range effort of his own. Szczesny was at full stretch, but it was always a comfortable save for him. Chico Flores did have a free header from the resulting corner, Giroud at fault this time, but it nestled harmlessly into the side netting.

A few minutes later, the visitors were the ones to receive a lucky break. Sagna beat his man and curled in a perfect cross to the unmarked Walcott at the back post. Unsurprisingly, our contract holdout was unable to get anything on it. Vorm was crossed up by the miss though, and could only watch as the ball bounced off the post and away to safety.

Finally, Arsene made a substitution in the 82nd minute, Aaron Ramsey coming on for the exhausted Diaby. He was playing with extra time in mind for sure, but I would have liked to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come on for the wasteful Walcott.

The Welshman's first contribution was to provide Walcott with yet another chance, but in fairness this one was at a tight angle. Vorm again blocked with his legs, and we all could be forgiven for wondering if anything would get past this guy. Well, actually, Giroud managed it off the corner kick, but it was cleared off the line by a defender.

I had written "This is a siege now" in my notes at this point, and a goal was still always possible despite Vorm's valiant display. Fittingly, it was Wilshere who showed his teammates the way. A weak clearance was brilliantly charged down by Gibbs, who laid it off to Cazorla. This time, his pass to Giroud was at his feet, and the target man did his job to deflect it into the path of the rampaging Wilshere. The Hopefully Future Captain hit a thundering first-time volley over the dive of Vorm and into the top of the net.

The truth is, we had to have this one. The FA Cup has a talismanic quality for us that is not true for any other side. Sure, the mid-table rabble want to win it because they have so few chances, and the bigger sides will be in the hunt by inertia alone. But, especially given the disgraceful capitulation to Bradford City in the League Cup (made worse by just how badly Aston Villa - who would have been the semifinal opposition - are reeling), every effort must be made to win this trophy.

An honest assessment of the league would say that we are not a factor, and a similar one for the Champions League would indicate that we're going to be on the end of a royal whooping by Bayern Munich. Much has been made by other commentators of how this is our only hope of winning something, and none of them are wrong.

Hopefully, Jack continues to show us the way.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 8, Vermaelen 5, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Diaby 7 (Ramsey 7), Coquelin 7, Cazorla 7, Wilshere 8, Walcott 5, Giroud 6

Man of the Match: Gibbs was awesome and would have had it on any other night, but there is simply no way that anyone other than Jack Wilshere can take the honors today.