Well I can certainly get ‘a game of two halves’ in. I don’t mind accepting at some stages of that game the clichés I was most expecting to have to use were along the lines of ‘if you miss that many chances you begin to wonder if it is going to be your day’. At half-time I tweeted some cheap analogy…
Like watching two bantamweights at the moment. Neither has a knock-out punch, but will bang away furiously the nearer the end gets.
The little Arsenal players lived up to that prophecy, and to such an extent that Swansea ended up on the receiving end of the biggest 1-0 hiding I can recall. I don’t know what was said at half-time, but it most certainly did the trick. Arsenal hadn’t been that bad in the opening spell, but were a bit deliberate in the build-up, and decidedly choosy about when to press and when to retreat. It was an opening half we have seen before this season, most recently at Swansea in the first game. Thankfully when the visitors threatened then invariably the skipper was there to thwart them. Thomas Vermaelen has rediscovered his form.
What followed in the second-half was confirmation that Jack Wilshere has come of age. A change in personnel from the off saw Santi Cazorla moved roughly into the Podolski berth on the left, thus allowing Jack to work behind the central striker. Theo Walcott found himself mainly on the right with Olivier Giroud rightly started up top. This was a fairly fluid formation in the first-half, but proved a tactical masterstroke in the second. When Arsenal upped the tempo you could sense the Swansea markers were being pulled about, uncertain of who they ought to be picking up and where.
In the midst of it all little Jack constantly offered himself as an outlet, and when others took a short breather he took it on his own shoulders to take on players and get the ball into dangerous areas. My view was that Cazorla too enjoyed the change of responsibilities. Notionally removed from the onus of being creator in chief, he buzzed around Jack, harried defenders, and looked like the player we have missed in recent weeks. Between them they created a plethora of chances. Was it going to be ‘one of those days’?
The gift of hindsight suggests the deciding moment was inevitable. As the visitors settled for the prospect of extra-time and penalties we launched one more assault. A sumptuous touch from Giroud set up Jack for a left-foot drive beyond the outstanding Vorm. Who was the player pointing to his skull after that, imploring those around him to concentrate. You’ve guessed it. Let’s not burden the lad with nonsensical talk of the captaincy too early. It didn’t help us to keep Fabregas. However it does seem inevitable that he will get the armband in the years to come when he is good and ready.
So a potentially frustrating evening has come to a satisfactory conclusion. There are some real positives to be taken from this game. Most important of all is the clear message that Jack is ready to take on that role more often in what remains of the season. He will need to rest for the odd game for sure, and having Santi, and yes, Abou Diaby, as options is important. Behind them we could still do with a proven defensive midfielder. That is not a criticism of Francis Coquelin, solid tonight, but not yet a regular starter in a side that will contest the major prizes. He should develop, but isn’t there yet.
There are a couple of other areas that require ‘supplementing’, but shall we leave that for the aftermath of the Chelsea game? I have splashed out on a particularly tasty Islay malt, and it is demanding my attention. I’m really looking forward to a day out in Brighton, brief or not (hint hint!).
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