Defensive frailty prevents Arsenal from completing comeback
Podolski 81, Gibbs 83
The defensive frailty that threatens to cost Arsenal a place in next season’s Champions League was evident again here as Arsene Wenger’s hit-and-miss Gunners went from a goal down to 2-1 up, only to concede an 87th-minute equaliser which forces them to replay on January 16th for the right to meet Brighton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The replay will be at the Emirates which makes Arsenal the favourites to progress, despite the fact that the Swans won 2-0 there in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, Wenger was left to rue the failure to hold on to a winning position and settle it in 90 minutes. “We should have won the game”, he said. “I’m frustrated that we didn’t.”
It has been a familiar experience for Wenger this season. In reality, the result was the most equitable outcome to a real slow burner that only caught fire late in the second half. The first goal was delayed until the 58th minute, the last three came in a frenetic final 10.
In Wales the “magic of the Cup” seems to be in short supply. On Saturday Cardiff fielded a team of 11 reserves and were eliminated, with no regrets, by non-League Macclesfield, opting instead to concentrate on their promotion bid.
Here, Swansea rested Ashley Williams, their captain, and right-back Angel Rangel with Wednesday’s first leg of their League Cup semi-final, away to Chelsea, in mind. They also left their leading scorer, Michu, on the bench until the second half, when he plundered his 15th goal in 24 appearances just 73 seconds after getting on.
Meanwhile, Arsenal recalled Olivier Giroud to lead their attack, with Theo Walcott reverting to a wide right role.
Chances were few in an aesthetically pleasing but goalless first half, Danny Graham letting fly with a pulverising drive which demanded a spectacular save from Wojciech Szczesny while Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla blasted over after 35 minutes.
Swansea’s quick response saw Kyle Bartley heading firmly against the crossbar from Jonathan de Guzman’s free.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon greeted Michu’s introduction, and in little more than a minute he put Swansea ahead. Michel Vorm’s long clearance was helped on by Nathan Dyer to the Spaniard, who flicked the ball past Laurent Koscielny before racing clear to shoot low, beyond Szczesny’s right hand, from the edge of the area.
Arsenal pressed forward and Wenger sent on Lukas Podolski for the last 20 minutes.
Walcott ought to have equalised but shot wastefully wide and Podolski was guilty of an even more culpable miss but his blushes were spared by an offside flag. The German atoned in full in the 81st minute by hooking home the equaliser from near the penalty spot, the Swans’ defence having failed to clear the ball after a corner.
Arsenal’s comeback looked complete when Kieran Gibbs combined with Mikel Arteta before crashing home a wonderful volley after 83 minutes.
But Swansea were not finished and they grabbed a lifeline when Ki Sung-yueng found Danny Graham lurking unmarked yards from goal following a corner and he fired home emphatically for the equaliser.