Swansea and Arsenal played out a fantastic cup tie at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday afternoon and will meet again on the 16th January (date subject to change) for a replay at the Emirates. Arsenal have a congested fixture list with this replay adding to an already busy month. If Arsenal win the replay they will face Brighton away in the 4th round on the weekend of the 26th January. Add to this a rearranged league fixture with West Ham on the 23rd, the replay itself and the fact Arsenal have league games against Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool this month and it has to be said that this month is a very busy one and one that will define Arsenal’s season.
I stated in my preview how this IS Arsenal’s best and in all likelihood Arsenal’s only realistic chance of claiming silverware this season. Arsene Wenger clearly agrees. His line-up was strong and told me he is fed up of hearing about Arsenal’s trophy drought. However, when the draw for the third round was made, Swansea away certainly wouldn’t have been top on his list of teams he wanted to get and would have been pretty high on his list of teams he wanted to avoid!.
The first half wasn’t great viewing, especially from an Arsenal point of view. Swansea created the better chances with Danny Graham firing a shot that tested Wojciech Szczesny in the 13th minute after out muscling Per Mertesacker.
Arsenal then created minor chances with Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey both seeing their shots blocked before Santi Cazorla’s tame effort probably as close as it came for Arsenal in the first half.
Swansea had one more big chance before the break when former Gunner Kyle Bartley smashed a header against the crossbar. If that had gone in, it would have been a sweet moment for Bartley, who found games hard to come by in his Arsenal days and hasn’t played much for Swansea either since his summer move to Wales.
Arsenal were better in the second half. They came out looking as if they wanted to win this cup tie. Olivier Giroud scuffed at a shot before doing better the second time around, forcing Michel Vorm to save with his legs from a first-time effort. Giroud went close again on the volley before Aaron Ramsey went down in the box and appeals were made for a penalty. The ESPN commentators instantly said it should be a penalty, but the referee Howard Webb didn’t point to the spot. I waited to see the replay before getting upset over it. Webb made the right decision. Ramsey tripped over his own feet. No complaints here.
The way the game was going, in all honesty, you could only see one team scoring – Arsenal. That was until Michael Laudrup played his trump card. Michu. The Spaniard scored both of Swansea’s goals in their 2-0 win at the Emirates last month and it was a relief to see him on the bench for this tie to be honest. He came on in the 56th minute along with Pablo Hernandez and by the 58th minute he was celebrating a goal. He got clear of the slow Mertesacker and past any other Arsenal defenders before steering the ball into the net past Szczesny.
Arsenal needed to show some character now. They had been the better team in the second half but found themselves behind. Giroud should have levelled the scores not long after when Ramsey played a great cross to the Frenchman, but his header ended up going woefully wide.
It felt like one of those days for Arsenal. The kind of day that has been all too common since Arsenal last lifted a trophy in 2005. Play well enough to win a game but end up losing anyway. It could have happened. Wenger needed to bring someone on. Although Arsenal were creating chances, they weren’t going in. Enter Lukas Podolski. The German international replaced Aaron Ramsey in the 73rd minute as Arsenal desperately kept searching for an equaliser.
Walcott somehow shot wide after getting in behind Swansea’s defence and Podolski missed a sitter not long after. Podolski turned out to be offside, but even so, the fact he missed was rather worrying. Podolski made up for his miss with just 9 minutes to go. He showed a natural striker’s instinct by finding the bottom corner of the net as he turned and shot. A fine finish by Podolski.
Arsenal were level and now looking for a winner. Kieran Gibbs, who had a great game, volleyed into the roof of the net after Giroud set him up with a lofted ball. A lovely goal from Gibbs, a player who doesn’t get many.
The job of the visitors was to hold on, something you know is hard for Arsenal if you watch them regularly. Ultimately it was poor defending that let Arsenal down again. Danny Graham had far too much space and made the most of it by putting in the equalising goal with 3 minutes left in the game to set up a replay.
There could have been a winner at either end before the game finished. Laurent Koscielny headed straight at Vorm, but the ball fell kindly for the Frenchman who’s wild effort went over.
Swansea right-back Dwight Tiendalli then smashed his shot into the side netting and that was that. A very entertaining cup tie in the end after a disappointing first half.
Neither side will fancy a replay. I went into detail about how busy Arsenal’s January is and Swansea are in the same boat as us. They have two games against Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals, an away trip to Everton, Stoke at home and Sunderland away as well as this replay. It was no real surprise that Laudrup tried to rest Michu and a replay is probably the last thing that he wanted, but at the end of the day, do you want to still be in the cup or not?. I certainly do.
As mentioned earlier, the winner of the replay will face Brighton away in the 4th round. Brighton showed they are no pushovers by comfortably seeing off Premier League opponents Newcastle in the 3rd round with a 2-0 home win. We will know if we are going to be playing Brighton sooner rather than later with the replay scheduled for the 16th January. A trip to Brighton will be on the cards 10 or 11 days later if the Gunners get through.