Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Swansea City in their FA CUp third-round replay on Wednesday evening, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Dafydd Pritchard for their views.
Swansea’s 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium in December was particularly impressive given Michael Laudrup’s injury problems that day. He was without both Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge on the wings, which forced him to use central midfielder Jonathan de Guzman in a wide role and Michu just behind loanee Itay Shechter.
Although Michu actually prefers playing in that deep-lying role, Swansea appear more balanced when he plays as the primary centre forward, allowing De Guzman to start as a third central midfielder. They played that system in last week’s impressive 2-0 win at Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, another demonstration of their impressive ability on the road.
But the excellent form of Danny Graham is giving Laudrup a selection dilemma - he scored in four consecutive games either side of the New Year, including the equaliser that forced this replay. It’s difficult for opposition coaches to work out which system Laudrup will use, although Michu continues to be prolific from either role.
Hernandez and Routledge’s displays have been crucial in Swansea’s recent good run, and Nathan Dyer provides another good option. Hernandez is often viewed as an old fashioned winger, but is actually willing to drift inside and provide another passing option for the central midfielders. Although Swansea have become more direct since Brendan Rodgers’ dismissal, their pass completion rate is similar.
Leon Britton is the chief orchestrator of Swansea’s passing moves, always keeping his distribution neat and tidy and rarely attempting forward passes, instead ensuring possession is retained. Alongside him, Ki Sung-Yeung is not as pivotal, but attempts a broader range of passes. Arsenal must be alert to the way he slides the ball into Michu and feeds the wingers.
At the back, Chico Flores appeared too impetuous at the start of the season but has settled down and become a fine defender. He likes to stick tight to opponents, while Ashley Williams is a brilliant last-ditch defender - no-one has made more blocks in the Premier League this season. Teenage left-back Ben Davies has deputised superbly for long-term injury victim Neil Taylor, but can be vulnerable in the air.
DAFYDD PRITCHARD, SOUTH WALES EVENING ECHO
Defeat for Swansea on Wednesday wouldn’t be the end of the world, but they’ve proved recently that, even with fixture congestion, they are able to cope.
They’re on a seven-game unbeaten run in what is probably the busiest period of the season so far. I don’t think they will view the FA Cup as a distraction. Premier League safety is almost guaranteed so I think they’ll be wanting to progress at Arsenal.
Michael Laudrup has had confidence in his squad players. He’s started them in big games and, on the whole, they’ve responded with solid performances. That’s built real confidence throughout his squad.
I think the team will be rotated again at the Emirates and I’d expect Kyle Bartley to come in, as well as Graham and Garry Monk. I’d expect as many as five or six changes.
The likes of Michu and Pablo Hernandez will get the attention, but Laudrup has made some very astute signings. Dwight Tiendalli came in on a free in September and has been solid and dependable. He’s proved himself to be a decent acquisition. I think Arsenal might win this. I’ll go 2-1.
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