Swansea City-Arsenal Preview
A loss at Old Trafford might be considered excusable, even in this tumultuous season for its residents. Should Arsenal allow that to regress into anything but three points at home against relegation-threatened Swansea City, Arsene Wenger won't find a damage-control specialist alive able to calm Arsenal supporters heading into the weekend's north London derby.
That's the scenario Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium with the Swans trying to parlay off the Gunners' three-match winless streak in all competitions, though the Swans are certainly no Barcelona or Manchester United, and lately it's debatable if they'd even stack up with Hull City.
Those are the three clubs Arsenal (15-6-6) have failed to beat in three separate competitions since a 2-1 home win over front-running Leicester City on Feb. 14 had them within two points of the top of the table, and in many eyes, the favourites to win the league. But since then, Arsenal's prospects for winning any of their three remaining competitions have dipped.
Their two-goal deficit to Barcelona is for all practical purposes insurmountable heading back to the Camp Nou for the second leg of the clubs' round of 16 Champions League tie March 16. A scoreless draw versus Hull at the Emirates has them headed to KC Stadium for a fifth-round FA Cup replay Tuesday - a nuisance of a match given it falls between rivals Tottenham Hotspur and another league match.
Following Sunday's 3-2 loss to Manchester United and Leicester's draw versus West Brom on Tuesday, Arsenal are six off the Foxes' pace with Saturday's crunch encounter at White Hart Lane looming.
"It's a step back but we can still make up for this," goalkeeper Petr Cech told the club's official website. "We have two important games coming up this week and if we manage to win both, the table might look better again."
It was a further defensive letdown after conceding twice from the 71st minute on against Barcelona after holding shape and limiting the Catalans' attack for over an hour.
After that, Wenger made a change in the back with Gabriel replacing Per Mertesacker in the starting XI at Old Trafford - despite being up against the 18-year-old Marcus Rashford rather than the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez - while also inserting Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck in the attack for Olivier Giroud and the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The manager expressed no regrets, refuting his selections were overly aggressive as Walcott's performance in particular drew ire.
"I'm convinced Welbeck, Walcott and Alexis (Sanchez) can defend well when it is needed," Wenger said. "When you analyse the goals, we lost the ball in our own half for the first one but after that they were just crosses today."
Mesut Ozil might not have been as consistently crisp with his distribution, though he continued setting up a huge percentage of the Gunners' attack with the German assisting Welbeck's 40th-minute goal before scoring his own in the 69th. Ozil's 18 assists are two off Thierry Henry's 2002-03 Premier League record and already tied with Cesc Fabregas' season total from last year in nine fewer matches. They're the only two players to reach 15 in the league since David Silva in 2011-12.
Two of those came in a 3-0 win at the Liberty Stadium on Halloween as Arsenal evened the all-time Premier League series at four wins each with one draw. Oddly enough, the Swans have done most of their damage at the Emirates with two wins and a draw in four matches, including a 1-0 win May 11 in last season's corresponding fixture on an 85th-minute goal from Bafetimbi Gomis.
Swansea (6-9-12) were unable to disrupt the title aspirations of the Gunners' north London neighbours, falling 2-1 at Tottenham on Sunday. Alberto Paloschi gave the Swans a 19th-minute lead, though they were unable to contain a second-half onslaught as Spurs finished the match with 14 shots on target.
The fact that it didn't go beyond a one-goal swing is a credit to former Arsenal keeper Lukasz Fabianski. The Poland international made 12 saves, which is the highest single-game total in the division this season.
"You could see from the pressure and chances they had that it was going to be difficult to get a result," Leroy Fer told the club's official website. "They were like a storm, and although we defended very well we just couldn't contain one of the best - if not the best - team in the league.
"... There are positives to take from Sunday's game, and we will take that to the Emirates on Wednesday. We have a strong squad here, and everyone is desperate to do their part to help the team get points."
The Wales side enter the midweek fixtures 16th in the table on 27 points, but just three clear of Norwich City and Newcastle United. Since a 2-1 win at Everton on Jan. 24, the Swans have two points from four matches and need something from Wednesday to avoid their third three-match losing streak dating to Nov. 29.