Arsenal will seek to remain ahead in the battle for the Premier League runners-up spot when hosting Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night. Manchester City’s emphatic 6-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Sunday has given last year’s champions a three-point advantage on Arsenal in the race to finish second behind Chelsea. But Arsenal have two games in hand as they seek to claim their best league finish in a decade.
Those heights are a far cry from when Arsenal last took on Swansea. In November at the Liberty Stadium, Arsenal were beaten 2-1 in the midst of a spell that cast much doubt over Arsene Wenger’s future at the club. They now go into the return fixture having won nine and drawn one of their last 10 Premier League fixtures and are the competition’s form team in 2015. While a place in the top four is already secured and an FA Cup final is still to come, Wenger insists his players won’t be taking their foot off the gas.
“We feel we have made progress in our consistency, quality and stability,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “I believe it’s important that we finish as close as possible to Chelsea and come out of the season thinking we are ready for a challenge next season. You gain confidence from what you have achieved the year before and how well you have moved forward, that’s why it’s very important that we continue to be consistent until the end of the season.”
One of the key figures in Arsenal’s turnaround has been Santi Cazorla. Seen as a wide midfielder when signing from Malaga in 2011, the Spain international has flourished since moving into a central midfield role. He put in another fine performance in last week’s 3-1 victory at Hull City and has earned some glowing praise from his manager.
“He’s a model to watch. If you go out and you watch Cazorla play, you think this is not a player -- when you watch him in Spain -- who is specifically a player for the Premier League,” Wenger said. “He’s a fantastic example that no matter how tall you are, it’s about how good you are. He’s a very intelligent player and he shows too how important it is to be right and left footed in midfield. He’s a good example of how we should educate young players who play in midfield to have a right and left foot.
“Yes [his permanent role will be in the middle],” added Wenger. “He’s at an age where he has experience and it’s a bit more difficult for him on the flanks. His technical quality, vision and experience are very important central.”
While Arsenal are on course for their best finish in 10 years, their next opponents have already achieved their highest ever Premier League points total. Despite Gerry Monk being in his first full season as a manager and having lost top-scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in January, the Welsh side sit an impressive eighth in the table. Although they have long been safely ensconced in mid-table, Swansea have maintained their momentum, winning four of their last six matches. And Monk is eager for that to continue.
“The football that we’ve played this season has been fantastic, we’ve won games in many different ways,” he said. “There’s been plenty of different reasons why we’ve done so well. “I’m always one that wants to keep pushing on and we’ve got three games to try and cement what’s been a great season so far and try and improve it even more.”
Swansea will be boosted by the return of French striker Bafetimbi Gomis, but fellow forward Nelson Oliveira has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Arsenal have a major doubt over the fitness of Aaron Ramsey after the midfielder took a heavy knock against Hull. Danny Welbeck remains out.
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream info: NBC Sports Live Extra