Walcott to start and prove his doubters wrong
Match Preview – Arsenal vs Swansea – Premier League – 11.05.15
This match has added bite with the weekend results giving Swansea a faint hope of European football next season with a victory over second place chasing Arsenal.
Arsenal control their own destiny and know a perfect return of points between now and the end of the season will see them seize their highest league finish since 2005 with points to spare. Even 10 points from 12 is enough to guarantee them second place.
Manchester United are the opposition Arsenal face next after Swansea and as such it is imperative the Gunners take all three points today. A win today and anything but a loss against United puts Arsenal directly into the Champions League and removes the fatiguing prospect of qualifiers from Arsenal’s 2015/16 schedule.
The superior goal difference of Manchester City, boosted by their 6-0 trouncing of relegated QPR, means Arsenal cannot afford to drop any more than two points and with a faint hope of automatic Champions League qualification themselves, Louis van Gaal’s team will be itching to snatch three points from us.
I stood next to Ray Parlour in a club level bar in November as we watched Swansea fight back from a goal down to take a deserved 2-1 victory over Arsenal. Two goals in three minutes from the Swans were enough to kick Arsenal while they were down and Ray’s face said it all.
When Gomis took advantage of Sigurdsson’s gift of a point from a position of defeat to inflict the reverse on Arsenal the colour drained from Ray’s healthily tanned face and like everyone else in that bar he watched numbly, mouth agape, unable to speak before slowly closing his eyes in agony and giving a little disbelieving yet resigned shake of the head. He had seen that story many times before.
Arsenal may not have been at their best that day but Swansea deserve a lot of credit for how they turned that game around. We barely had a sniff in the first half and we didn’t get one again after Gomis powered in his header.
They will be dangerous again tonight and you wouldn’t put it past them doing the double over us in normal circumstances but Arsenal are on an incredible run this calendar year and the momentum we have should carry us through to the end of the season with little more than a bump or scrape at worst.
There aren’t many Premier League games left to enjoy but there is still time to join me on the Dohyo Premier League predictions app for iOS and put your prediction abilities to the test – there are prizes up for grabs for the various league winners including an Invincibles print, a copy of FM2015 and an iPad Mini.
Arsenal certainly have the impetus to make straightforward work of this game but we underestimate Swansea at our peril.
It will be interesting to see who lines up today as Wenger’s match build up comments suggest Theo Walcott could be in line for a start.
The England international is strangely a figure of divisiveness amongst supporters today with many, in my view, bizarrely writing him off. Pre-injury, Theo Walcott was our most potent attacking player. His speed terrifies opposition defenders but more importantly his finishing and the timing of his runs make him a far more complete, intelligent and dangerous prospect than he was 3 or 4 years ago.
I find it odd that so many would consider his absence from the team an indication of his lack of ability. They say it can take almost as long as your injury lay off to mentally recover and when you’re not playing it’s probably even harder.
Arsenal have the luxury of omitting Theo from the team and letting him recover at a healthy pace. Aaron Ramsey did not have that luxury and had to battle through his own demons and the blood-thirsty and unforgiving crowd that got on his back with every misplaced pass or incomprehensible flick.
It should be noted by historians that a mentally recovered Ramsey has cemented his place in the Arsenal team as one of our most important players and in consideration as one of the best midfield players in Europe.
Theo Walcott can do the same but he needs to play. I’ve long held the view Theo is being deliberately handled with care and used sparingly not because of a desire to sell him but through the lack of experienced defensive cover.
We all know Theo is not the most defensively minded player and whilst the emergence of Bellerin is cause for celebration it must be noted that our young Spaniard is still green and possibly unable to cope with the exposure a player like Walcott provides.
Walcott is a player you brings incredible results when the balance in the team is right. He is the sort of player you encourage to neglect defensive duties because in a split-second he can participate in a devastating attack. An experienced defender like Debuchy would pick up the defensive slack and equalise the team.
Bellerin has a lot of learning to do before he can protect the space behind Walcott. Debuchy is returning from injury himself and Bellerin has performed admirably in his absence. It is for that reason I believe Theo is being used sparingly rather than a pre-sale freeze-out.
I fancy him for a start today though and can see him showing people what we’ve missed while he’s been away. It’s worth remembering that he and Özil have never quite managed an extended run in the team together. The prospect of someone with Theo’s speed and timing of runs getting on the end of exquisite Özil passes is frighteningly exciting.
Arsenal from; Ospina, Szczesny, Debuchy, Bellerin, Gibbs, Monreal, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Koscielny, Chambers, Rosicky, Wilshere, Flamini, Coquelin, Özil, Ramsey, Alexis, Cazorla, Welbeck, Walcott, Giroud.
Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Özil, Walcott, Alexis, Wilshere, Welbeck
I expect to see substitute appearances from Giroud, Ramsey and Cazorla.
“He’s at the best age now. Being 26 to 32 as a striker is the best age as a striker and I wouldn’t like to miss that golden age” – Arsène Wenger
Last 3 Meetings
- Swansea 2-1 Arsenal (09.11.204)
- Arsenal 2-2 Swansea (25.03.2014)
- Swansea 1-2 Arsenal (28.09.2013)
Arsenal Last 5
Swansea Last 5
Seven wins since the turn of the year has put Swansea in late contention for a Europa League place.
Under Garry Monk they have achieved their best Premier League points record and their best season since 1982.
Swansea favour a high-pressing game to win the ball and a fast, wing-based, counter-attacking approach. They will seek to win the ball deep in our half and patiently pass it around in their own. It’s rare Arsenal come across a team that tries to out pass them but Swansea is one such team and that has an equal chance of being Arsenal’s undoing or greatest weapon.
We could be in for a pretty boring first half as 21 of the last 22 goals in the fixture, in all competitions, have been scored in the second half. With a midfield as choked as this one I expect the match to be won or lost on the wings.
- This is the 8th time these sides have faced each other in the Premier League with 3 wins each. A last minute own goal from Flamini saw the other game end in a draw the last time the Swans visited Arsenal
- Swansea have come from behind to get 7 of the 10 points they have earned against Arsenal
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last 34 home Premier League matches
- Swansea are looking for a third consecutive league win, which they haven’t done since the opening three matches of the season
- Arsenal have conceded just two goals in their last seven Premier League games at the Emirates
- If the side remains the same as the last four games, it will be the first time Wenger has played the same XI for five league games in a row. The last time Arsenal named the same team for five games in a row was in 1994
- Aaron Ramsey has had a hand in seven goals (three goals, four assists) in his last six Premier League appearances
- Swansea have won two of their last three away matches
I think this will be quite a tight game in the first half but much more open in the second. 3-1 Arsenal with Ramsey, Walcott and Welbeck on the scoresheet.
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