The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

Hot and cold Arsenal hang on with ten men to beat Swansea in five goal thriller

    Published: 15 October, 2016

    FA Premier League
    Arsenal 3, Swansea City 2

    THIS was Arsenal at their brilliant, confusing best, the puzzle which confronts this famous club laid out in full view in what turned out to be a pulsating five-goal thriller. One moment they were almost showboating against a Swansea team looking groggy and on the ropes. The next, they were clinging on to the victory. Sublime in patches, shoddy in others, they have climbed to second place in the league with victory this afternoon (Saturday).

    It was all encapsulated here as Arsenal threatened to rip apart their visitors, often a bogey team in this fixture, with incisive passing and mesmerising close control. Mesut Ozil runs hot and cold, but was piping today, while Alex Iwobi looked right at home next to players with fine international pedigree. And Hector Bellerin showed why Barcelona seem desperate to sign him, by using his speed to both lock up the defence and supplement some of the best moves going forward. Add in Alexis Sanchez, who ran himself into the ground without getting the goal his exertions probably deserved, and the Gunners were playing like a team capable of scoring four, five or six.

    For all the show-stopping passing attacks, the two early goals they did score, however, owed as much to Swansea's dizzy defending than anything else. Theo Walcott, revitalised this season, was the grateful recipient, first pouncing on the hesitant response to a ball hopefully swung across the six yard line by a looping Bellerin header. Later, from a corner, Swansea were all at sea, and Walcott had a simple task to score as the ball came down at his feet.

    Then came the bad. With Arsenal in cruise control, Granit Xhaka was suddenly pickpocketed by Gylfi Sigurdsson, who ran through to belt the ball past Cech to half the deficit, and all of a sudden Arsenal looked confused at how they were heading down the tunnel for the half time break only one goal ahead.

    Manager Arsene Wenger later blamed a lack of focus.

    The two goal cushion was restored when, early in the second half, Mesut Ozil thrash-volleyed Sanchez's dipping pass into the top corner. Wenger was urged by journalists afterwards to compare it with Marco Van Basten's famous goal for Holland in 1988, but he resisted, instead saying that he hoped the strike would encourage the German midfielder to go for goal more often.

    Arsenal were coasting again but once again stumbled on the implosion button. Nacho Monreal was found daydreaming once too often at left back and Swansea scored another frightener through substitute Gonzalez Borja. Xhaka's up and down afternoon then, with 20 minutes to go, took a second turn for the worse when he was sent off on the halfway line for a cynical foul on the breaking Modou Barrow. So far from goal, it all seemed harsh but Wenger said he would not be appealing and hoped Xhaka would learn from the incident. "He's not a dirty player," the manager nonetheless insisted. 

    Barrow ran rings round Monreal and Swansea might have made more of the advantage. Sigurdsson knocked a shot over the bar, Leroy Fer could not convert three separate half chances and Barrow himself missed the best opportunity for an equaliser by steering a free header into Petr Cech's arms. On the break, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain twice broke through at pace, both times squaring to Walcott, who first hit the post and then with the last kick of the game virtually somehow managed to push the ball onto the crossbar. If he had scored, Arsenal would be top of the table on goals scored this evening.

    It had nevertheless all become very dramatic, too dramatic, marvellous viewing for any neutral but too close to call for Wenger, whose team had looked like they had sewn up the match half an hour earlier but were now trying to stem the panic.

    "We just about got over the line," said Wenger. "We could have scored a fourth but they could have scored also. It finished in a very uncomfortable way but I think, in patches, we played some fantastic football. At 2-0, and again at 3-1, we lost a bit of focus."

    He added that Walcott had become more "resilient" and while the forward had been disappointed not to clinch a hat-trick, Wenger added: "I think he has now scored six goals which is very encouraging."

    ARSENAL: Cech - Bellerin, Monreal, Koscielny (captain), Mustafi - Xhaka, Cazorla, Iwobi (Coquelin 68), Ozil (Gibbs 83), Walcott - Sanchez (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82)
    Subs not used: Gabriel, Lucas Perez, Ospina, Elneny

    Tickets sold: 60,007



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