London (AFP) – Theo Walcott scored two first-half goals and Mesut Ozil a fine third as Arsenal beat Swansea City 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to go level on points with Premier League leaders Manchester City.
But the Gunners had to survive a nervy finale after Granit Xhaka was dismissed 20 minutes from the end in what was former United States manager Bob Bradley’s first game in charge of Swansea.
England forward Walcott had been derided after disappointing appearances for his country in recent World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia but his Arsenal form remains solid and this match took his tally to six goals in five club appearances.
The 27-year-old scored twice in six first-half minutes courtesy of disappointing Swansea defending but Bradley’s side were handed a lifeline courtesy of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s effort.
Ozil then appeared to end their hopes early in the second half before Arsenal were left to unexpectedly hold on after Borja Baston scored a second Swansea goal Xhaka was then harshly red-carded for a foul on Modou Barrow.
Bradley, the first American manager in the Premier League, suffered a difficult afternoon as his new side ended the day in the relegation zone.
Arsenal looked a threat from the off and were disappointed not to take the lead early as defender Shkodran Mustafi headed onto the bar from Ozil’s corner.
Arsene Wenger’s side enjoyed most of the possession but Swansea occasionally threatened on the break, Leroy Fer shooting just over from the edge of the area following Kyle Naughton’s cross.
Bradley is known for the organisation of his sides, so he will have been bitterly disappointed with Swansea’s defending in north London.
First it was Jordi Amat who made a poor attempt of a clearance from Hector Bellerin’s 27th-minute headed cross that allowed Walcott nipped in to beat Lukasz Fabianski, the former Arsenal goalkeeper.
Wenger’s side came close to a second with Alexis Sanchez’s lob just clearing the bar before the impressive Bellerin’s shot was saved after a free-flowing move involving Walcott and Ozil.
– Lifeline –
Again though, Swansea were architects of their own downfall, Leroy Fer, Sigurdsson and Jack Cork all missing opportunities to clear Santi Cazorla’s corner with the ball falling at Walcott’s feet for a tap-in.
Swansea though were given a lifeline as the hosts caught the poor defending bug, Xhaka inexplicably robbed in possession before Sigurdsson fired home from the edge of the area in the 38th minute.
Walcott was denied a hat-trick by Fabianski but Arsenal were soon celebrating a third goal of their own.
Sanchez picked out Ozil in expert fashion in the 57th minute and the German celebrated his 28th birthday with a powerful volley from close range.
Arsenal should have wrapped the game up but Swansea pulled another goal back in the 66th minute as Baston converted from close range following Modou Barrow’s cross as Arsenal were carved open too easily.
The visitors’ hopes were increased 20 minutes from time as Xhaka was controversially dismissed for a challenge on Barrow on the touchline. Although it was a late challenge, a red card caught everyone at the Emirates by surprise.
Swansea should have equalised as first Barrow headed straight at Petr Cech from Routledge’s cross and then Sigurdsson blazed over from Barrow’s centre.
At the other end, Walcott was unlucky not to complete a hat-trick when he struck the post following Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass.
Cech had to be on his guard to keep out Federico Fernandez’s late header from a Routledge cross but Arsenal held on having made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves.
Walcott then hit the bar with virtually the last kick following Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass on another counter-attack.