Sunday’s match between Swansea and Arsenal was an eyeopening account that laid bare the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, especially the gulf in talent and confidence between Swansea’s Premier League footballers and the poor confidence and technical inefficiencies of some of Arsenal’s veteran players. Matched up against each other on the same pitch, it was plain to see how Swansea’s wingers Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair were far more productive than Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin (despite Walcott’s wonderfully taken goal). Swansea’s on loan centre half Steven Caulker was more reliable than Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, while Swansea’s new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson was far more productive than Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.
Of course, over the course of a season the form of Arsenal’s players may improve significantly. But based on Sunday’s thrilling 3-2 win by Swansea, Arsene Wenger must have a lot to consider given how well Swansea’s Neil Taylor played at left back (in a position where Arsenal have been riddled with injuries; Taylor, by the way, was signed by Swansea for just £150,000) and how inconsistent Walcott and Arshavin are. How many times do we have to see Walcott’s promising runs result in a poor cross or having the ball picked away by a defender? And the less said about Arshavin, the better.
It’s remarkable to consider that Swansea spent just £8,750,000 in the August transfer window, just a little more than what Arsenal spent to sign Andre Santos (£6,200,000). For that £8,750,000, Swansea picked up four players — Michel Vorm, Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge and Leroy Lita. The money spent is even more impressive when you consider that strugglers Queens Park Rangers spent more than £10million last summer (including £6,500,000 for one player — the ineffective and dismally disappointing Shaun Wright-Phillips).
With Swansea’s January transfer window captures of Sigurdsson and Josh McEachran, on loan from Chelsea, the Welsh side has significantly strengthened its midfield and chosen two players who will not only add depth but will also add more creativity in midfield to help create chances for Danny Graham and company.
Looking at the Swansea team, it’s a mixture of many shrewd acquisitions who have been overlooked and discarded by other teams. Steve McClaren offloaded Danny Graham to Carlisle while the former England manager was at Middlesbrough. Southampton farmed Nathan Dyer out to Swansea for a transfer fee of just £400,000. Chelsea couldn’t find room for Scott Sinclair and sold him to the Swans for £500,000. Leon Britton was released by West Ham. Journeyman Wayne Routledge has finally found his feet after failing at several other clubs. And just over a year ago, Neil Taylor was playing non-league football. The list goes on and on with similar stories for each squad member. Swansea have taken several outcasts, who are hungry to prove themselves, and put them together to play in a system that emphasizes possession, passing and pressing — much like Real Madrid and Barcelona. It’s the type of system at Swansea that adapts well even when players are rotated in and out of the squad. The system remains the same.
Let’s be clear. Swansea’s convincing win against Arsenal was not an aberration. The turning point in the season came in mid-December when Swansea overcame Fulham. Since that victory, Swansea gained the confidence to grab a point at St. James’s Park, as well as picking up hard fought draws against QPR and Spurs, and much-needed away victories against Aston Villa and Barnsley. The only blip between that win against Fulham and Sunday’s victory against Arsenal was a one-nil loss on the road against Everton in a game where Rodgers, for once, got his tactics wrong.
Swansea’s triumph against Arsenal on Sunday will have convinced a lot of naysayers who were down on Swansea to start believing in what the Welsh club is trying to accomplish. On a tiny budget, with no training ground of their own, the players are fighting for survival in the Premier League, but by doing it the right way (i.e. playing attractive, entertaining football). On Sunday, The Swans proved that their hard work ethic and team spirit can overcome even some of the richest teams in the league. It’s just one win in a season, and the Swans will realize there’s still a distance to go, but hopefully they’ll get a chance to cherish the victory as they prepare for the long road ahead.