Belfast Telegraph

Danny Graham rescues Swansea City after Arsenal's late show

By Sam Wallace

Swansea City 2 Arsenal 2: It is seven years, seven months and 17 days since Arsenal won their last trophy and, at times yesterday, it felt like the ticking of that proverbial clock was the force that drove Arsène Wenger's team on and, ultimately, back into the tie.

With nine minutes left they were on their way out of the FA Cup, the last competition which they have a realistic chance of winning and the players will have known what was coming. Eight years. The prospect of eight years without a trophy. It may still come to pass but at least they will not have fallen at the very first hurdle.

In fact, it took no small measure of character from Wenger's side to drag themselves back into the match with Lukas Podolski's equaliser and then Kieran Gibbs' brilliantly taken second which seemed to have the game won.

Then in the last few minutes they threw it away all over again when Danny Graham scored the equaliser that means these two sides will meet at the Emirates a week on Wednesday for a fixture in the fourth round away to Brighton.

That was the best and the worst of the current Arsenal side, a team that can occasionally dazzle in attack but are all too brittle in defence. They had been badly embarrassed by Michu's goal on 58 minutes, a mere 73 seconds after his arrival as a substitute yet they dominated possession for long periods of the game. They were flat-footed for Graham's goal having previously sliced through Swansea at the other end.

It was a Swansea team missing Michu and Ashley Williams from the first XI and the home team's back four was marshalled by Kyle Bartley, the former Arsenal academy kid who had a fine game in just his second outing of the season.

In many respects, Swansea, with their League Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea looming on Wednesday, made more concessions to their packed fixture schedule than their illustrious opposition.

The problem for Arsenal is that they can no longer simply roll into town and expect to beat the smaller clubs of the Premier League at a canter. In fact, given their experience at Bradford City in the League Cup this season, there are no guarantees even against opposition of a much lower level.

This is a Swansea side that won at Arsenal in the league this season, and Wenger's robust team selection clearly had that in mind.

He picked a team to win the game and now that the postponed Boxing Day league game against West Ham is rescheduled for 23 January his team could play five matches in 13 days in the second half of the month, providing they make the fourth round.

Olivier Giroud embodied much of the frustration about this Arsenal performance. On two occasions his touch in the box was immaculate, once on 50 minutes when he killed the ball stone dead and teed up Aaron Ramsey. Then again with seven minutes left, when he lofted a chip perfectly into Gibbs' path for the second goal. At other times, he could be infuriating. There was a shot that was shanked embarrassingly wide soon after half-time and a header that failed to hit the target on 65 minutes.

When Michu came on, £9million cheaper and seven league goals better off, it took him no time to give Giroud a lesson in finishing. Gibbs had been too weak with the lively Nathan Dyer and, when the ball broke off Laurent Koscielny to Michu, the Spanish striker lofted it over Per Mertesacker.

It will have been painful for the Arsenal bench to watch their German defender so comprehensively beaten for pace and technique and left behind like the proverbial statue of Liberty Stadium. Having pulled away, Michu finished with confidence.

He did not start the game, Michael Laudrup said, because the forward was not completely fit. In his absence, Graham was an effective threat even if he does not possess the silkiness of his team-mate. In fairness, few do.

Before then, Arsenal had been denied a penalty by Howard Webb when Ramsey was clipped by Dwight Tiendalli in the box on 52 minutes. There was the faintest of contact and Wenger, naturally, believed that it should have been a penalty but it required more than one slow-motion replay to ascertain that fact.

There were some fine performances in the Swansea side, from the likes of Leon Britton, Jonathan de Guzman and the 19-year-old Welsh left-back Ben Davies. His one mistake of the game on 75 minutes let Theo Walcott in on goal but the Arsenal forward's first touch was off and he ended up dragging his shot across goal.

With nine minutes left, Podolski came up with the equaliser having earlier been responsible for an atrocious miss – although his embarrassment was spared by the flag for offside.

For the goal, Bacary Sagna headed back Walcott's deep corner, Mikel Arteta retrieved the ball and Podolski hit a crisp right-foot shot from close range. Within two minutes Arsenal were in the lead when Gibbs and Giroud exchanged passes and the full-back scored with a volley.

From there the tie should have been sealed off by Arsenal. Wenger said that he had sensed problems defending set-pieces and he was proved right.

The substitute Kemy Agustien struck a corner that skimmed off the head of Podolski and fell at the feet of Ki Sung-yeung, unmarked. He poked the ball on to Graham, similarly unattended, who did the rest for Swansea from close range.

Afterwards, Laudrup conceded that although he had no desire to lose the game, the replay does not make life any easier for him. From Wednesday, his team will face six games in 20 days, including the two legs against Chelsea.

Wenger has never lost before in the FA Cup third round and this season, of all seasons, would have been a very bad time to break that habit. English football has changed since he arrived in 1996 and sides like Swansea with their fashionable young foreign manager and astute foreign signings can more than compete. As for the FA Cup, that remains Arsenal's best chance of a trophy and as such demands to be taken seriously.

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