Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side travel to Swansea in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Gareth Vincent for their views.
An away trip to Swansea wasn’t the ideal FA Cup third-round draw for Arsenal. It’s only five weeks since Michael Laudrup’s side recorded an impressive 2-0 victory at the Emirates, and Swansea will have plenty of confidence going into this meeting, despite just one win in their six league matches since.
Swansea’s win was particularly special because, unlike many visiting sides at the Emirates, they didn’t merely defend deep and counter-attack - they passed the ball and competed with Arsenal in the centre of the pitch.
Possession of 47.5 per cent is more than most sides manage away to Arsenal, and considering Swansea average 5.5 per cent more possession at the Liberty Stadium compared to their matches on the road, it’s not inconceivable that Arsenal will encounter a side that dominates the ball.
Arsenal youth product Leon Britton is famously Swansea’s most regular passer, recording pass completion statistics last season that were comparable with Barcelona’s central midfielders, but in the game against Arsenal, his midfield colleague Ki Sung-Yeung actually completed three more passes.
It’s not a huge difference, but it’s worth remembering that Arsenal are dealing with two reliable central midfield distributors, not just Britton.
Those two spread the play wide to Swansea’s pacy wingers - two of Nathan Dyer, Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge will stretch the play and attempt to dribble past Arsenal’s full backs. Swansea’s wingers don’t always cross the ball in the air, sometimes preferring cut-backs to Michu, who lurks cleverly on the edge of the penalty box.
The Spaniard will play a deep-lying role rather than as the main forward, with Danny Graham likely to continue up front. Graham was out of favour with Laudrup, but two goals in his last two starts should guarantee his selection. He’ll create space for Michu by drawing wide and working the channels, from where he hit the winner against Arsenal in a 3-2 home win around this time last season.
GARETH VINCENT, SOUTH WALES EVENING POST
Lots of people were wondering about how Swansea would get on this season, even before Brendan Rodgers left. There was a lot of talk about second-season syndrome. Then when he did go, there was even more doom and gloom in some people’s eyes. Michael Laudrup has come in and looks like he might be able to improve on what Swansea did last season, which is a great effort. He didn’t have to come in and tear things up and start again. He was appointed because the club felt felt he could carry on Rodgers’ work.
I’m sure Swansea will be hoping for a similar game to that at the Emirates last month. That result will give them confidence that they can beat Arsenal again. Michu was the star on that day. For him to score so many goals in his first Premier League season has been a remarkable effort.
There’s been a Spanish flavour to Swansea ever since Roberto Martinez was the manager. He started the influx of Spanish players five or six years ago. One of them, Angel Rangel, is still at the club. Michu was the star at the Emirates in December and Chico Flores has come in and improved as the season has gone on. Pablo Hernandez is another one who has looked a real class act. He missed the last game between the sides but is fit again now.
I think Laudrup would like the team to improve their defending at set-pieces. Apart from that, you can’t pick too many faults with Swansea this year. For them to be mid-table in the Premier League and in the semi-final of the Capital One Cup has shown what a good season they are having.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see what team Laudrup picks because Swansea have got Chelsea to come in the Capital One Cup semi-final next week. People are wondering if Laudrup will play his strongest side with the Chelsea game on the horizon.
Either way, I can see Sunday’s game being tight and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes to a replay.
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