By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal registered their first victory of the Premier League campaign with a 1-0 success over Swansea on Saturday.
In the build-up to this fixture, Arsène Wenger had suggested that - after arrivals, departures and a couple of disappointing defeats - this was the start of the season for his side.
As curtain-raisers go, it was hardly compelling. But Arsenal were worth their win. And a victory - of any shape or form - was requisite this afternoon.
The deciding goal arrived five minutes from half-time when an errant throw from Swansea keeper Michael Vorm landed at the feet of Andrey Arshavin. The Russian converted from a narrow angle.
The home side never quite kicked on from there and Swansea were always threatening. The experience of new signings helped Arsenal hold them off but at the same time it was clear Wenger’s men need a little time to gel.
However, let’s be clear, this is a fillip for everyone whose heart is held at Emirates Stadium.
The pressure was on and the team responded with the one panacea for a football problem - victory.
Arsenal’s season is underway.
The previews had painted this as a massive game for Wenger and his team. The despondency that immediately followed that 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford had been dissipated by a two-week break for international matches and five new signings in 48 hours before the transfer window closed.
With Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) and Jack Wilshere (ankle) likely to be out for a while, Wenger started two of the new additions - Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta - at centre back and in central midfield respectively. Ju Young Park, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun began on the bench.
Meanwhile Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were back from injury. Emmanuel Frimpong returned after suspension.
This was Swansea’s first League meeting against Arsenal since New Year’s Day 1983. Brendan Rodgers’ side were the first Welsh outfit to grace the Premier League but this afternoon their manager was not with them. Sadly, his father had passed away on the morning of the game.
Despite a lively start from the home side, Rodgers would have been proud of his men in the first half.
However, within a minute of the first whistle, Arsenal might have been in front via, ironically, a Welshman. Arteta stormed through centre midfield before laying on a pass for Aaron Ramsey who slid his shot over the bar.
But Rodgers has built this Swansea side on solid footballing principles and hard work. Despite the early let-off, that shone through.
In the sixth minute, Wojciech Szczesny used all of his 6ft 3ins frame to claw in a prod from Danny Graham when it appeared to be heading just inside the near post. It would be arguably the clearest chance before the goal.
That said, Arsenal might have gone in front in the 13th minute when Arshavin’s pass inside left back Neil Taylor allowed Theo Walcott to nip in and clip the ball past the advancing Vorm. The ball trickled towards the empty net but Steven Caulker raced back to deal with the danger on the line.
Arteta had a free-kick blocked and Frimpong dragged his shot down as Arsenal looked to take control. But 10 minutes from the whistle Swansea carved out a couple of decent chances. First Taylor’s penetrative cross was missed by Graham at the near post and Gibbs had to the ball out for a corner. That fell to Joe Allen 12 yards out but Mertesacker timed his slide perfectly to block.
It was then, just as Swansea were levelling up the game, that Arsenal scored. In the 40th minute, Walcott’s shot looped high and wide only for Vorm to intercept and bowl out the ball on the far side of the area. His effort hit the heel of Angel Rangel and fell nicely for Arshavin, who converted in to the empty net from an acute angle.
It was horribly hard on Swansea but then Arsenal had been overpunished against Liverpool last time out at Emirates Stadium.
Football is forever unforgiving.
The goal did not affect Swansea at the start of the second half. Eight minutes in, Laruent Koscielny clipped Sinclair on the edge of the area. The Englishman got up and took the free-kick. It was powerful and goalbound but Szczesny tipped the ball onto the bar.
Van Persie responded by beating Rangel and Leon Britton before planting a low, curling shot against the outside of the post. Then Arshavin thundered over from distance and Van Persie skied a shot when well-placed.
Up to this point, it had not been vintage Wenger but his team were worth their lead. Arsenal sides throughout history had soothed painful periods with solid 1-0 wins. Surely that would be enough this afternoon.
With minutes 63 gone, Wenger replaced Arshavin with Benayoun. Certainly the home side needed a little lift. They were hardly under pressure but, at the same time, they were not comfortable.
Arteta had a shot deflected wide then, after replacing Van Persie, Marouane Chamakh produced a towering header from Gibb’s high, hanging cross. Vorm held on.
As the minutes ticked away, Arsenal looked relatively comfortable until Swansea chanced their arm in injury time. The Welsh side continued to play their game and might have grabbed a last-gasp point with Graham hooked a shot over the bar from close-range following a corner. Gibbs dribbled forward and tested Vorm by way of response.
At the whistle, Arsenal fans were relieved as they were happy.
But they had all three points.
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Frimpong 73
- Arteta Yellow Card
- Walcott Yellow Card
- Persie 80
- Arshavin 62 Goal!
- Benayoun 62
- Coquelin 73
- Chamakh 80
- Caulker Yellow Card
- Dyer 83
- Agustien 63 Yellow Card
- Allen 74
- Moore 83
- Gower 63
- Dobbie 74