Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Swansea in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Gareth Vincent.
Michael Laudrup was appointed as Swansea’s new manager because he would continue the emphasis upon passing football favoured by predecessors Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez - but Swansea have evolved into a more purposeful, progressive side in possession this season.
Under Rodgers, Swansea became famous for their ball-retention skills, insisting upon dominating possession both home and away. In contrast, Laudrup orders his players to move the ball forward more quickly, and although Swansea are still capable of holding on to the ball for long periods, they’ve become a more direct side when needed, especially on the road.
Michu, an astute signing from Rayo Vallecano, has given Swansea another dimension. He’s an unusual player, although 6ft1in, good in the air and excellent with his back to goal, the Spanish forward prefers to play a withdrawn role, with an out-and-out striker ahead of him.
Laudrup is currently unsure of his best forward combination: Michu was superb at the start of the season behind Danny Graham, but Graham failed to score consistently, so Michu moved forward into the primary striker role. There, he was less influential and less prolific, so was moved back into the ‘number 10’ position behind Israeli lonaee Itay Shechter. Either way, Laudrup has struggled to get a main striker firing at the same time as Michu.
Using Michu as the main striker means there’s an extra midfield slot up for grabs, allowing Jonathan De Guzman and Ki Sung-Yeung to play in the same side. Both are creative - De Guzman operates slightly higher up the pitch, while Ki is a hard worker and combines ambitious passes out to the flanks with a pass completion rate that rivals that of Leon Britton.
Arsenal youth product Britton is one of the first names on the teamsheet and offers reliable, unfussy sideways passing, as Swansea are strong on the wings. Laudrup can choose from three fine wingers, so one of Pablo Hernandez, Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer are forced to sit on the bench, so Laudrup always has the option of a substitute providing extra pace and trickery. The wingers have become clinical this season - Routledge has already scored more than in 2011/12, while Dyer and Hernandez have both contributed goals too.
Although Swansea keep the ball well, their pattern of passes has one of the biggest imbalances in the Premier League - they strongly concentrate upon working the right flank. The cause is two-fold: their three wingers are all right footed, so whoever is fielded on the left tends to cut inside. More crucially, Swansea look to pass out of defence through right back Angel Rangel, who is a fine player with the ball at his feet, but has collected too many bookings this season.
On the opposite side, youngster Ben Daviesm - getting an extended run in the first team after Neil Taylor’s serious injury - plays a more cautious role. Centre backs Chico and Ashley Williams mix physicality with good ball-playing ability, but back-up goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel doesn’t have the distribution skills of injured first-choice Michel Vorm.
GARETH VINCENT, SOUTH WALES EVENING POST
It’s a game that Swansea are really looking forward to. They’re on a good run at present and their performance on Wednesday [against West Brom] was arguably their best ever in the Premier League. They have got 20 points already and the pressure is off. Michael Laudrup has done excellently since taking over.
They normally play in a 4-2-3-1 formation and go about the game in a similar way to how they did under Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez. Pablo Hernandez has been terrific recently but he could miss the game, which is a big blow. Michu has adjusted to the Premier League very well and has scored eight goals already.
The teams are likely to play a similar type of game and whoever keeps the ball better will probably come out on top. Swansea have shown that they can retain the ball for large periods and penetrate teams at the same time.
I think Swansea can get a draw. They’ve only lost one in nine and their confidence is high so I’ll go for 1-1.Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source