This is starting to become a season of frustration as a Swansea supporter. Not because we’re scoreless after four games, but because we’ve held our own against Manchester City, Wigan, Sunderland and now Arsenal.
In the game Saturday at Emirates Stadium, Swansea gave away a gift of a goal to Arsenal. For 90 plus minutes, the Swans battled hard and matched Arsenal. Swansea weren’t bossed off the pitch. Instead they held their own, created plenty of chances and gave Arsenal fans a few nervy moments.
But in the game of Premier League football, the most that people will remember a few weeks from now from this game is the scoreline. And the fact that Swansea lost.
Before the match, I was cautiously optimistic — at least to myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to go out and start bragging that Swansea could snatch a point or get an away win at Emirates Stadium.
The reason for my optimism was the style of football that Swansea plays and how that fits against Arsenal. Two teams playing a Spanish style of football. As opposed to playing against teams like Wigan or Manchester City who have a steely midfield, Swansea could fight mano-y-mano against the Gunners. At the end of the day, the team playing the best possession football would create the most number of chances, if they could capitalize in the final third. However, that has been a consistent obstacle for both Arsenal and, especially, Swansea this season.
Before the match, I wondered why Swansea assistant manager Colin Pascoe was the one giving Arsene Wenger the pre-match handshake only to find out that Brendan Rogers had to return to Ireland due to a death in the family. At times like these, family is more important. But what an unfortunate situation for Rogers to miss out on Swansea’s biggest game of the season thus far in a game where they had half a chance to win rather than the Manchester City game where it was over before it started when you consider the superstars on Mansour’s team.
But then, thinking about it, I wondered if Roger not being with the team would give the Swans the incentive to “win it for the manager.” Such is the tight bond that Rogers has with his players, that him not being there could inspire them to give it their all even more so than usual.
Swansea hit the crossbar through Scott Sinclair. Szczesny had to make a fingertip save from an early chance courtesy of Danny Graham. Other than that, there were a few crosses fizzed into the box, but Swansea were unable to latch on to them or were out of position to make their chances count.
The frustration is that I’ve seen plenty of teams battle in the Premier League. Some of them were awful and deserved to be relegated (Derby County and Hull City, just to name two). But this Swansea side can play football. The two things they’re missing are that creative midfielder who can create something out of nothing, and a goalscorer up front who will do something special.
Danny Graham, after playing four matches for the Swans, is not that man who will create something special. He’s a strong, physical striker who gets into good positions, but there have been several chances now that he’s wasted against Arsenal, Wigan and Sunderland. It’s time, I believe, to give Graham a rest and try a different tactic.
The challenge for Swansea is that there aren’t that many other players who can step in and do better. Swansea bought conservatively in the summer transfer window. Being fiscally responsible is great for the sustainability of the club, but it doesn’t help on the pitch.
For me, Luke Moore is too slow and not decisive enough. Leroy Lita has done nothing to impress me so far this season even though he’s only had a few appearances as a substitute. But I would prefer to see Craig Beattie given a chance. He’s a similar build to Graham, and putting him up front against West Brom in their next game may be the chance he needs to grab that goal that the Swans desperately need. Beattie impressed last week when Swansea reserves beat Liverpool reserves. He deserves, at least, a chance on the bench, if nothing at all.
In middle, it looks like Kenny Agustien may be out for some time due to a hamstring injury. Wayne Routledge is recovering from a knee injury, which is why Mark Gower came on for Agustien today. But whether it’s Gower or Routledge, that position to me is covered unless the Swans can bring in some fresh new blood in the January transfer window. But that seems so far away now.
As for Arsenal, I was unimpressed. The three points will give the Gunners and Wenger some much needed breathing room and confidence. But I didn’t see that slick Arsenal passing game today that has been missing for months. And other than Robin van Persie, I didn’t see anything special against a Swansea side which is several depths below Arsenal in the talent pool.
In the back, Steven Caulker impressed me for Swansea, especially his goal line clearance. Scott Sinclair is frustrating me a great deal, however, this season. He’s not getting as much time with the ball, so when he does get it, he seems to show promise but then runs out of ideas or loses it too easily. This is not the same Sinclair that I knew and loved last season.
Lastly, the one major player that Swansea is clearly missing is Fabio Borini, now at Roma. Borini was the difference that Swansea had last season, and they’ve been unable to replace him with someone of the same quality. That was a player who had something special, which Swansea now desperately lack. It’s no surprise that Brendan Rogers, who sadly missed the game today due to a death in the family, tried to sign Borini in the transfer window. But left with Graham, a decent footballer, he still is sadly not what’s needed at this level (take, for example, his miss at the end of the Arsenal game when he volleyed the ball over the crossbar in front of an open net).
Swansea pinning their hopes on Danny Graham is not going to keep the Swans up. I’m sure Graham will find his touch now and again this season, but they need better alternatives up front and it’s time to mix things up.