Arsenal outgunned by Swansea
Published 16/01/2012 | 08:37
Swansea City 3 Arsenal 2: No Thierry Henry heroics this time around. The fairy tale was all Swansea City's as they stretched their arms out wide in Wonderland.
Nine years ago to the day, Swansea were bottom of the Football League. And guess who were top of the Premiership? Arsenal.
That said it all, while "Land of our Fathers" sang it all as it resounded across South-west Wales. The suspicion must be, however, that not even their fabled forefathers would have believed this.
The Gunners, the mighty Gunners, outplayed at their own game and toppled in the Premier League. No club, anywhere, has enjoyed a more rousing turnaround this century.
Inevitably, Arsène Wenger had his gripe with the officials, calling Swansea's first-half penalty "complete imagination". But when the bitterness subsided of Arsenal's second successive League defeat and of a four-point gap to Chelsea in fourth, even he had to admit how deserving Swansea were of the three points which hauled them into the top 10.
Brendan Rodgers' men only know one way to play – the right way. And when their history is rewritten this win will rightfully feature large and proud.
It seemed so ominous when Robin van Persie latched on to Andrei Arshavin's through ball in the fifth minute to score his 18th League goal of the season, fooling both Steven Caulker and fellow Dutchman Michel Vorm to squeeze it inside the near post. On the bench Henry grinned – this is how he remembered it.
But then followed the fickle new Arsenal, allowing themselves to be outpaced, outpassed and, essentially, out-fought. Swansea, as they have all season, proceeded to remain faithful to their footballing philosophy. From the nightmare beginning to the excruciating end. They live and are prepared to die on their passing game.
Within 11 minutes the life was pouring through their veins as Aaron Ramsey was adjudged to have clipped Nathan Dyer's heels as he swivelled in the box.
"Complete imagination"? That's stretching it ridiculously, although it was dubious. Wojciech Szczesny actually dived the right way, but Scott Sinclair's spot-kick had the requisite power. Game on. Dream on.
Arsenal might have struck straight back had Ramsey's daisy-cutter across the goal not hit the unsuspecting Caulker, a Spurs loanee of all things, and deflected directly to Vorm. From there it was white delight.
But then, had Van Persie buried it when put through by Yossi Benayoun on the half-hour mark it might have been different, but his effort was aimed at Vorm.
By then, Swansea had wrested the momentum away from Arsenal and were only to let it go for a minute.
With three English wingers on the pitch, the onlooking Fabio Capello had a frank comparison to make. It did not favour Theo Walcott, despite his equaliser. Sinclair and, in particular, Dyer were electric as Leon Britton and Joe Allen expertly fired up the generator.
"The way my players play means that international football wouldn't be a shock to them," said Rodgers. It was Allen who set up Dyer for his third in as many games.
This has been a week Ramsey would far rather forget. Criticised for venting his feelings about Gary Speed's successor as national coach, the former Cardiff player was the target of The Liberty's indignation. And when Allen, his good friend, dispossessed him in the 58th minute Ramsey's frustration was obvious. He could only watch on as Dyer collected the ball on the edge of the area before unleashing a flyer past Szczesny. Cue those hymns, which might never again sound so bitter to Ramsey, the national captain.
Arsenal were hanging on, a mess at the back, with poor Ignasi Miquel a stranger on his first league start. That needs a long-term fix, but in the short term Wenger had seen enough and introduced Henry in the hope of some magic.
The old boy at least witnessed an Arsenal fightback, however brief, however futile. In contrast to their attacking play, Swansea's defence showed one or two holes, which in the 69th minute Johan Djourou's pass split Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams to exploit. Credit to Walcott for clipping the ball over Vorm in clinical fashion, because otherwise his afternoon was not pretty.
Were Arsenal to escape after all? Only for the length of their cheers.
As Arsenal were still back-slapping, Swansea substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson's pass picked out Danny Graham, who capitalised on Szczesny's hesitancy in advancing from his line to send the home support back into rapture.
Still Swansea pressed, still Swansea believed. By now everyone knows they can play the stylish stuff, but what about the resolve? They answered those doubts emphatically.
"We responded quickly, we got the goal and then took them on," said Graham, whose status grows as his Premier League tally rises to eight. "For us to score so quickly after they equalised was massive and we played good stuff towards the end. I think we warranted the win."
Didn't they just. Henry barely had a kick, although he did have a front row seat to watch Per Mertesacker horribly scuff wide when the net gaped.
The evening didn't get any better for Ramsey as he aimed his bullet header from Walcott's cross at Vorm as Arsenal threw numbers forward.
Not to say Swansea sat back; they didn't, they wouldn't know how. But there was one more fright to survive when Tomas Rosicky drove to the box and forced Vorm to save, before gathering Laurent Koscielny's follow-up.
When the whistle went, pandemonium ensued, with one Arsenal fan shouting abuse in Henry's earshot. "Support your team," Henry told him. What a difference six days make. Never mind nine years.
Man of the match: Dyer
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland)