“Still in the cup. As long as we’re still in the competition, there’s a chance we could still win the FA Cup.”
That was my thought immediately after the 2-2 draw against Swansea yesterday. This came on the back of another disappointing week for Arsenal Football Club as we also only managed to draw with Southampton in the game on New Year’s Day. A Southampton side that promptly got beat 5-1 by a Chelsea side that contained their new signing (arghhh, should have been ours!!!), Demba Ba. Arsene Wenger might still be waiting for Rafa Benitez to send a thank you card for ensuring the Southampton players were too tired to put up a fight against them.
To take that draw against a side placed 17th in the league without so much as making Artur Boruc work, and go to the Liberty Stadium wasn’t going to be easy. Swansea already had the upper hand on us earlier in the season when Michu got a brace and they won at Emirates Stadium. The same player was to give Arsenal defenders nightmares once again as he emerged from the bench to score within minutes of replacing Jonathan De Guzman. At this point, given how poor we were in the first half, even the most optimistic of Gooners would find it hard to even think about the fourth round.
Yet, the scenario couldn’t be more different. It was as if being a goal down sparked Arsenal into life. Shame that it needed us being under the cosh for the team to realise that they need to play better. Suddenly we were putting more passes together in the midfield and gained control of the possession. The pressing was better and there was a genuine desire from the players in red and white to not lose this game. Lukas Podolski replicated Michu’s goalscoring effort from the bench, though it took the German six minutes longer than Michu to do it.
From then on we looked like a different side, a side in control of the game. Swansea for all their possession earlier in the game, retreated into their shell. They looked petrified and we took full advantage of it. We’ve always talked about the lack of variation in the way we attack, however yesterday was a different story. Olivier Giroud combined with Kieran Gibbs and delicately chipped the ball for the onrushing Gibbs to slam home a volley from close quarters. A goal reminiscent of the one Podolski scored against Olympiacos earlier in the season.
The goals didn’t end there though. Swansea summoned one last effort, albeit via us giving them a helping hand, and grabbed the equaliser to the tie into a replay. Danny Graham with all the time in the world inside our penalty box to dig the ball past a hapless Wojciech Szczesny. I won’t criticise the zonal marking because that wasn’t the problem. Players didn’t position themselves correctly and were too slow to react to the second ball after the header from the corner was missed. The same lack of defensive awareness which cost us the opening goal. Per Mertesacker should have brought down Michu and deny the Spaniard the run through on goal. Sometimes, our players lack that little bit of gamesmanship.
When all is said and done, we’re still in the competition. It’s going to make a tough week where the replay is rescheduled. The rest of the January fixture reads like this Man City (H), Swansea (H) Chelsea (A), West Ham (H), Brighton (A- if we beat Swansea) and Liverpool (H). That’s an average of a game every 4 days within this month. A mighty effort is required if we are to come away with six wins by the 30th of January. Six wins looks unlikely to be achieved with the current squad. A splash in the transfer market is needed and we do not want to see it only being done on the 31st of January.
There are plenty more games after January but these six matches could very well shape how the rest of our season is going to turn out. Time to get some help.