On the eve of this match, much was made of Arsenal’s deficiencies on the right side of midfield, thanks to the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
After the Gunners left the Liberty Stadium with the three points, the buzz centred on the man who filled the void in that very position – Joel Campbell.
There was a small matter of ninety minutes against a team who did the double against them last season before Campbell could earn his stripes however.
Arsene Wenger named Per Mertesacker back in the side for this match in place of Gabriel – despite his performance against Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in midweek. His league performances and especially his towering impact against Bayern Munich last week though have been nothing short of imperious. The other members of the lineup were as expected as squad depth was scarce.
Garry Monk recalled Gylffi Sigurdsson and Ki for this game. Throw into the mix Jonjo Shelvey and Jefferson Montero and creativity wasn’t thought to be an issue for the Welsh side.
With such ingenious artisans on show for both sides, the first half was a bit of a damp squib – especially on Arsenal’s part. They failed to light the touchpaper and were mired in midfield mediocrity as Santi Cazorla, Ozil et al struggled to string together the string of passes that usually precedes a Gunners breakthrough.
It was the Swans who could feel slightly aggrieved to not be going in at the break with a goal advantage. Bafetimbi Gomis – the Frenchman who scored the winner in last seasons corresponding fixture – put clean through, but a combination of expert and brave goalkeeping from Cech who drove him wide, and a razor sharp Hector Bellerin rushing back to clear the danger.
Then Icelandic set-piece wizard Sigurdsson whipped in a free kick, only for what appeared to be an arm from Mertesacker impeding the balls path. The referee Kevin Friend decided that it wasn’t penalty worthy and the game carried on, much to the Swans consternation.
The second half saw a different Arsenal take to the pitch. The rapid movement and sharp passing that is synonymous with the Gunners made a brief appearance – but its cameo was enough to give Arsene Wenger’s side the lead.
Olivier Giroud, marked tightly by Swans Captain Ashley Williams, eluded his marker expertly and planted a Mesut Ozil corner into the far corner. It was a smart finish but the way Giroud delayed his run and made enough space for his finish was evidence of his penalty area nous. It also marked the 2000th goal under Arsene Wengers reign.
Nineteen minutes later, Arsenal had a second. Laurent Koscielny had stayed in the opposition area after a corner and his gamble paid off. A lofted ball winged its way back in and a combination of Koscielny, Giroud and former Gunners keeper Lukasz Fabianski’s indecision left the French defender with the simple task of putting the ball into an empty net. Replays suggested that Giroud had put an arm across the Polish stopper, but it was Fabianski’s strange call to attempt to catch the ball rather than punch it, that led to Koscielny doubling Arsenal’s advantage.
Mesut Ozil is having his standout season this campaign and Arsenal are benefitting from his genius. Five minutes after the second goal, it was Ozil roving down the left hand side that led to Joel Campbell getting his first Arsenal league goal. The German exchanged passes with Alexis Sanchez before a low ball across the box found Joel Campbell. Unopposed, he took a touch before nonchalantly sidefooting it into the far corner. The Costa Rican’s team mates looked just as overjoyed for him as Campbell himself and his display was full of effort and excellent defensive cover for Hector Bellerin. His display will ease any worries Arsene Wenger had in regards to the right side of midfield and the spot is his for the next few games at least if he keeps up this level of effort.
Arsenal could have earned more goals as they sat back and counter-punched a desperate Swansea side, but the final whistle blew and the Gunners had earned maximum points.
A disjointed first half and an efficient second half showed perfectly that even if Arsene Wenger’s team isn’t at their free-flowing best, they are more than capable of producing the goods even if all the cogs aren’t turning. With Ozil and Sanchez potentially able to turn a game on its head, and with Hector Bellerin displaying attacking excellence and defensive solidity – if you get a chance, try and find his clearance from Andre Ayew – then the Gunners may just be able to cope with a growing injury list.
Arsenal stay in second spot, mere goal difference separating them from Manchester City who sit at the top.
Next up in the league? The North London Derby!!!