Arsenal have received mixed news ahead of their attempt to recover from their 6-0 mauling at the hands of Chelsea against Swansea City on Tuesday, with Laurent Koscielny ruled out with a calf problem, but both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs able to play.
Koscielny was forced off at half-time on Saturday, at which point Arsenal were already 4-0 down as the celebration of Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge fast descended into a nightmare. Wenger could well reflect that injuries played a significant part in a defeat that has all-but ended their hopes of a first Premier League title in a decade.
Arsenal were shorn of a host of midfielders in Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and the forgotten man Abou Diaby, while Theo Walcott’s pace was also absent. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who did start in midfield, had a wretched opening 15 minutes that saw him twice crucially concede possession to lead to the opening goal and then to the penalty for the third when his desperate attempt to recover from his error saw him handle on the line.
The bizarre case of mistaken identity from referee Andre Marriner that saw Gibbs sent off will conclude with both he and Oxlade-Chamberlain being able to feature on Tuesday. Arsenal appealed against the suspensions of both men, with the one against Gibbs being transferred to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been excused on the basis that the shot was heading wide when he helped it on its way.
Whoever starts at the Emirates on Tuesday, it will be vital that Wenger gets a positive response from his team. Wenger canceled his press conference following the Chelsea defeat as well as the one scheduled before facing Swansea reportedly in the wake of a frank meeting with his squad.
Arsenal have come up woefully short in matches against all three of their rivals for the title this season, with a lack of squad depth, mental strength and Wenger’s ideologue nature proving their undoing. Those issues will undoubtedly have to be confronted going forward if they are to return to winning the major trophies. Yet there remains the opportunity for this season to end with a feeling of it being one of progress.
A strong finish in the Premier League will leave them at least as close to the top as they have been in years, while there remains a prime opportunity to end their trophy drought in the FA Cup. To do that they will have to get past two teams that they will be expected to beat. And Arsenal have been phenomenally good this season is doing just that. Of the title contenders, it is Arsenal who have the best record against teams outside the top seven. That impressive consistency will be put to the test again on Tuesday with the visit of Swansea.
The Welsh side came out on top in the corresponding fixture last season when producing a superb performance as they outplayed Arsenal at their own passing game. However, this campaign has not been nearly so successful for Swansea. Indeed they head to the Emirates still very much in need of points to steer clear of relegation.
Garry Monk has got the team back to their familiar passing rhythm but after an opening win over Cardiff the results have not come along with it. A record of 13 goals conceded in their last five outings is a clear reason for their inability to pick up the wins required. On Saturday they controlled possession against one of the league’s best passing teams in Everton but still lost 3-2. Afterward Monk blamed continuing individual errors for costing his side.
Arsenal have proven adept at exploiting such invitations from opposition defenses and look primed to rebound with a much-needed win.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Swansea
Arsenal: Wenger has revealed that young Spaniard Hector Bellerin will replace the injured Koscielny in the squad. Thomas Vermaelen, though, is set to step into the team. Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Walcott all remain sidelined.
Swansea: Monk has no new injury worries and could hand a first start Michu in three months after last season’s top scorer came off the bench in Swansea’s last two fixtures.