By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
A last-minute own goal from Mathieu Flamini saw Arsenal denied a priceless victory against Swansea at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
Until then, it looked like Arsène Wenger’s side had performed a remarkable turnaround.
They had trailed to Wilfried Bony’s header for a full, frustrating hour before something quite stunning occurred.
First the excellent Kieran Gibbs burst through to set up Lukas Podolski to volley home on 73 minutes. Swansea kicked off but Arsenal won the ball within seconds and Podolski emerged to feed Oliver Giroud with a simple finish at the near post.
Swansea pressed again by way of response. In the final minute Leon Britton burst through and, though Wojciech Szczesny saved his effort, the ball cannoned back off Flamini and trickled into the net.
It was heartbreaking for Arsenal, who had not been at their best but had battled back manfully.
They must lick their wounds before the visit of Manchester City on Saturday.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger made two changes from the side beaten at Chelsea – one enforced, one optional.
Thomas Vermaelen replaced Laurent Koscielny, who had gone off at Stamford Bridge with a calf injury.
Meanwhile Flamini came into the centre, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to the right of midfield and Podolski dropped to the bench.
Swansea arrived looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone. They might have been darlings of the Premier League in 2013 and lifted the Capital One Cup.
But had this season started on January 1, 2014, Garry Monk’s side would be in relegation zone, two points from safety.
Arsenal settled well in the early stages and pressed Swansea back without ever looking penetrative.
The closest they came was when keeper Michel Vorm punched away a drive from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It had been a solid enough start from Wenger’s men before Swansea took the lead with a quality finish.
Neil Taylor swung over an innocent enough cross from the left. Bony rose above Vermaelen to power home a header into the top corner of the net from the edge of the area. It was the 20th goal of the Ivorian’s impressive debut season in England.
The last time Arsenal had conceded a first-half goal at Emirates in the Premier League was back in September.
The stadium was suitably shocked.
The home side tried to respond. Per Mertesacker slid a header into the sidenetting from a corner. Tomas Rosicky drove into the area but his dangerous cross was cleared.
Swansea might have profited when Michu led a three-on-two breakaway. Fortunately for Arsenal, it only culminated in a blocked shot from Jonjo Shelvey.
Arsenal wrestled the initiative but their attacks lacked conviction. Swansea, meanwhile, were buoyed by the lead for which they were battling.
Three minutes from the interval Santi Cazorla danced through and forced a fine save from Vorm.
When the whistle went, Arsenal had it all to do.
Wenger’s men emerged re-energised after the interval.
Gibbs pushed forward whenever possible. The closest conversion was via Giroud’s deflected effort just before the hour.
It was then that Wenger swapped Podolski for Oxlade-Chamberlain. The German went to the left, Rosicky switched to the right.
Arsenal continued the chip away but Swansea were organised and resolute this evening.
But, with 19 minutes left, Gibbs found a chink in their armour. The left back had always seemed the most likely instigator and he sprinted the byline before cutting the ball back for Podolski to prod home from close range.
Swansea kicked off, Arsenal won the ball and scored. Podolski steamed down the left and crossed low into the area for Giroud to steer home a shot at the near post.
Swansea had been defending deeper and deeper. Now they had to unshackle themselves.
They poured forward and pressed back Arsenal. Wenger’s brought on debutant Kim Kallstrom to try and shore up the victory.
It looked like they had done it before that scrappy equaliser in the last minute.
A disappointing night for Arsenal.
- Rosicky 79
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 57
- Giroud 88 Goal!
- Kallstrom 79
- Sanogo 88
- Podolski 57 Goal!
- de Guzman
- Shelvey 79
- Michu 63
- Bony Goal! Yellow Card
- Hernandez 79
- Dyer 63