15:00 BST, Saturday 28th October, Emirates Stadium (London, England)
Arsenal head into the weekend bolstered by nine wins from their last eleven games in all competitions. Much of this success stems from their home form and a win against Swansea will be their 10th successive win at the Emirates, with seven of the games in this run also providing the Gunners with a clean sheet. Having lost three of the last six games against the Swans and with only one win from their last four meetings at the Emirates, Arsène Wenger will be well advised not to underestimate this weekend’s opponents.
While Arsenal look to keep building, Paul Clement is still struggling to lay the foundations in his first full season in charge at the club. Some defensively-minded tactics have drawn ire from sections of the Swans supporters this season and the Swans have only scored in one of their four away games in the Premiership. Having gone unbeaten in seven games on the road from all competitions prior to the recent game against West Ham, it could be that their away form provides Clement with something to build from.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 1-1 Norwich City [2-1 AET] (EFL Cup)
18-year-old substitute Edward Nketiah grabbed the headlines after his two goals rescued the match for Arsenal to send them into the semifinals of the EFL Cup. Arsène Wenger chose to replace his entire team for the midweek cup fixture as he once again placed his trust in a blend of youth and experience which has served him so well this season.
It was looking like a step too far for large periods of the game, however, as the side 6th in the Championship carved the majority of the games better chances only for Matt Macey and some off-target shooting preventing the Canaries opening up a bigger lead.
With Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin particularly poor on the night, Wenger threw three more young prospects onto the pitch with Nketiah entering the fray with five minutes remaining and scoring with his first touch. The striker then leapt magnificently at a corner during extra time to score a wonderful second and provide a new source of hope amongst the stands at the Emirates.
Swansea City 0-2 Manchester United (EFL Cup)
Another blunt display from the Swans saw them knocked out of the cup at the quarter-finals stage by a Manchester United side bouncing back from defeat. Swansea played some neat football at times but were constantly found short in producing an end-product to any of their moves. Having made eight changes to his starting lineup, Paul Clement still began the match with a relatively strong team. Yet United eased into control at an early stage and dominated the game following the second goal.
Oliver McBurnie was one of the brighter notes for Swansea with a debut that saw him upstage many of the more regular faces around him. With the midfield set up to contain United rather than create chances of their own, he was left to feed on scraps alone up front throughout the course of a disappointing night.
David Ospina (groin), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Calum Chambers (hip), Santiago Cazorla (fitness) and Danny Welbeck (groin) all remain out of action for the Gunners this weekend. This, along with the midweek EFL Cup fixture, could leave Wenger with the tempting option of fielding the same team which dismantled Everton last weekend.
Kyle Bartley (knee) and Wilfried Bony (hamstring) remain out of action for Paul Clement with doubts also shrouding both Renato Sanches (thigh) and Martin Olsson (knee) for this clash. This leaves Clement with some key decisions in some key areas of the pitch with his team already short on confidence.
Key Battle: Mesut Özil (Arsenal) vs Sam Clucas (Swansea)
After being on the receiving end of much criticism from fans and “experts” alike, Özil produced a performance last weekend that harked back to the German at his best. Not only was his technique, vision and decision making exemplary, his attitude and hunger was beyond questioning.
This was illustrated by the way he raced 80 yards up the pitch on an Arsenal break to head home a cross from the left by Alexis Sánchez. If the German playmaker can replicate this form again, Arsenal will be on a safe footing to win again this weekend.
With Olsson looking increasingly unlikely to be fit for this weekend’s match, Paul Clement is facing a major problem in who he can use to limit the influence Özil has on the game. Without any other natural left-backs in the senior squad, Kyle Naughton is one option. However, his poor form in his preferred right-sided berth could see him overlooked for a more creative solution.
Sam Clucas has a big fan in his manager and the versatile midfielder could well see him lining up for the Swans with an important role against the Gunners on the left of the defence.
The loss of Santi Carzola may not be a new development at Arsenal but it’s still an area that Wenger has yet to fully solve. While it’s not easy to replace a two-footed midfield genius, it is the way in which Carzola dictates the tempo of the game that Arsenal lack most. With a late bid made for Thomas Lemar in the last transfer window, he was a player who could potentially have provided the missing element for Arsenal.
It may be that an internal replacement is most likely and, although Jack Wilshere could technically fill the void, his susceptibility to injury remains a major concern. Another option is in the promotion of a youth player with Ainsley Maitland-Niles the strongest candidate. With the youngster playing semi-regular games due to Wenger’s second-team rotation policy, this could be the ideal way to bring him up to speed slowly for the second half of the season.
With Clement determined to get the Swans playing a passing game once more, much of the summer recruitment policy focused on building a midfield which is capable of implementing this style. While it looks to have left the Swans short in both attacking and defensive options, it’s also created a further problem with the sheer number of options Clement now has in the centre of the pitch.
This could be one reason why there’s been so many changes to the midfield personnel from game-to-game, something which has not allowed the team to build up any sort of rhythm as the season progresses.
Roque Mesa is one of the biggest losers here. Limited game time has stifled his integration into both the team and into the Premier League. While Clement may still be looking for the ideal lineup from his wealth of options, perhaps applying patience to a chosen formation could help nurture a rise in standards amongst his struggling side.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Swansea City
While Arsenal have slowly grown into this season, Swansea have failed to make much progress and they now face the very real prospect of another relegation fight from this campaign. Having comfortably beaten Bournemouth, Brighton and Everton, it should be another routine victory for Wenger’s team who are becoming effective at swatting aside teams in the lower reaches of the table.
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