Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on Monday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Garry Monk is widely considered to have continued with Swansea’s existing philosophy since taking charge last season, but he’s actually overseen a significant stylistic change.
"Swansea City have attempted the fewest tackles, won the fewest aerial duels and have collected the fewest number of bookings"
Monk, like predecessors Michael Laudrup and Brendan Rodgers, certainly values technical footballers - but he places less emphasis upon possession.
In their first three seasons of Premier League football, Swansea averaged 58 per cent, 55 per cent and 57 per cent of possession - but this campaign it’s dropped to 51 per cent, the same as Stoke City. This shouldn’t be considered a negative statistic, considering Swansea will record their best-ever Premier League points total, but it’s nevertheless evidence of a tactical shift.
Swansea still play positive football, however, and their approach is arguably best summarised by the things they don’t do: Swansea attempt the fewest crosses in the division and have scored the fewest set-piece goals - they also attempt the fewest tackles, win the fewest aerial duels and have collected the fewest number of bookings. Clearly, Monk won’t ask his players to physically unsettle Arsenal on Monday.
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is protected by a solid, dependable back four which usually holds a high line. Federico Fernandez and Ashley Williams are both physically strong, but more crucially both are capable of distributing the ball effectively into midfield. Swansea often play passing moves through right back Angel Rangel, while left back Neil Taylor sees less of the ball, but is also good technically and capable of overlapping.
Monk’s main tactical decision is in the centre of midfield. In recent months he’s generally played Jack Cork, a January arrival from Southampton and perfect for Swansea’s passing game, alongside the more dynamic Jonjo Shelvey, who breaks forward into attacking positions and can hit ferocious long-distance strikes.
"Jefferson Montero was excellent in the reverse fixture, creating the winner for Bafetimbi Gomis in a 2-1 Swansea win."
However, Monk could introduce Ki Sung-yueng, another calm and imposing midfield passer, to give Swansea control in the centre of the pitch. This would push Gylfi Sigurdsson out to the right, which has happened three times in Swansea’s last five matches. However, the Icelandic playmaker prefers to play at the head of the midfield triangle, from where he’s contributed 10 assists this season - the joint-second most in the Premier League.
Nathan Dyer is the alternative on the right - he’s much more of a natural winger, a small and tricky footballer who loves dribbling. On the left, Monk is likely to use Jefferson Montero, who stays wide, beats defenders on the outside and whips balls into the box. He was excellent in the reverse fixture, creating the winner for Bafetimbi Gomis in a 2-1 Swansea win.
Gomis should return from injury to lead the line, and is capable of running in behind or meeting crosses. He’s thrived since Wilfried Bony’s departure to Manchester City in January, while his understudy Nelson Oliveira is a fine passer but doesn’t offer such a goal threat.
Games between Arsenal and Swansea generally start slowly before opening up in the second half, and Swansea have a habit of scoring important late goals at the Emirates.
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