Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Swansea City on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Dafydd Pritchard for their views.
This will be Arsenal’s fourth meeting with Swansea City this season, after a 2-0 defeat, a 2-2 draw and a 1-0 victory for the Gunners in the previous three contests.
By this stage, Arsenal should have worked out the style of Michael Laudrup’s side - quick, intelligent passing football with a greater emphasis upon forward distribution than under Brendan Rodgers.
"Although the Welsh club always start in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the nuances of different players create many tactical possibilities."
That’s become obvious, but the interesting thing is how Laudrup has frequently varied his side’s shape from game to game, subtly altering the balance of the midfield. Although the Welsh club always start in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the nuances of different players create many tactical possibilities.
The key position is the advanced midfield role, where Laudrup has used three completely different types of player. At the start of the campaign, he used Michu in that ‘No 10’ position. Despite the Spanish striker being a revelation in terms of goalscoring, he actually prefers playing in that deep role. Laudrup reverted to that system last week, with Luke Moore - an injury doubt for this weekend - playing up top.
The second option is to use Michu up front alone (which seems more likely) and a third central midfielder just behind. This depends on former Arsenal trainee Leon Britton being declared fit to partner Sung-Yeung Ki, which would allow Jonathan de Guzman to push forward, giving Swansea more chance of dominating possession in the centre of the pitch. This is how Swansea played in the two FA Cup games against Arsenal.
But there’s a third option, too - the use of three wingers. Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez and Nathan Dyer can form a mobile, rotating trio of attacking midfielders behind Michu, as in the Capital One Cup final victory over Bradford. That keeps opponents guessing, and provides a more direct quality for fast breaks.
So who will Laudrup use in that role? Michu behind another forward for added goal threat? De Guzman for ball retention? Or a natural winger for dribbling quality? This decision will influence Swansea’s style of play, and Arsenal must react accordingly.
DAFYDD PRITCHARD, SOUTH WALES EVENING POST
I’m surprised that this game is going ahead to be honest, with Arsenal having played on Wednesday night. In addition, it’s the Six Nations decider between Wales and England at the Millennium Stadium, so south Wales will be very busy!
"Michu’s excellent debut season has been well documented, but Swansea’s other acquisitions from last summer have also performed consistently well. Chico Flores is really settling in now and Pablo Hernandez has shown flashes of quality"
Swansea have had a really good campaign and will be wanting to guard against a dip in form in the last 10 games. They finished 11th in the Premier League in 2012 and go into this game in 9th place. If they were to secure a top-half finish, I think Michael Laudrup would be very pleased with his first season in England.
Michu’s excellent debut season has been well documented, but Swansea’s other acquisitions from last summer have also performed consistently well. Chico Flores is really settling in now and Pablo Hernandez has shown flashes of quality. When he’s on his game, he can be very impressive. Ben Davies has come into the side in Neal Taylor’s absence and has done very well. He’s grown in confidence and ability and become a regular in the side, as well as winning his first Wales cap.
I don’t think Swansea will fear Arsenal, having beaten them at the Emirates in December, but when Michu plays in midfield, the Swans can sometimes lack a goal threat in the penalty area. Arsene Wenger's team tend to compete well in the middle of the park and I think the game could be decided there.
With the game coming so soon after Arsenal’s Champions League exit, and Swansea’s recent form being indifferent, I can see this finishing level. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.