Monday, 11 May 2015

Arsenal v Swansea Preview

It's another Monday night game for Arsenal this week and this time it's at home to Swansea after they brushed Hull aside so impressively last Monday. Hull needed points in their fight to stay in the Premier League, but Swansea need them to try to close in on sixth or seventh place and the possibility of Europa League football next season. It gives them plenty to play for and they won't make Arsenal's task on the night easy.

Arsenal are third in the table as it stands and have a two point lead over fourth placed United and two games in hand as well. They travel to United next week and they need to make that gap is five points before that game to make United's chances of catching them for third place so much slimmer. I know second place is still well within Arsenal's reach, but the first target has to be securing third place which will mean there will be no final qualifying round for next season's Champions League.

Their chances of finishing second are still very good of course and they will finish ahead of City if they get 10 points or more from their last four league games no matter what City do. Arsenal have won nine and drawn one in their last 10 league games and they have nothing to fear from any team. If they can finish ahead of City it will be their highest league finish in 10 years and there's still the small matter of an FA Cup final to come too.

There has been very few changes to the Arsenal team for league games for a while now and I expect that to be the case again. Aaron Ramsey is the only doubt from the team which beat Hull and I think the team will be the exact same if Ramsey is passed for to play. If he doesn't play it's not so easy to predict who will get the nod with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott the most likely.

Wilshere came on for Ramsey when he went off against Hull and he looked very impressive playing in a central role. The rest of the team had to adjust to accommodate Wilshere though and there would be no such adjustment needed if Walcott was chosen to play. He could slot into the wide right role Ramsey played in that game, but he would play it in a very different way.

I suppose it really depends on whether Arsene Wenger wants to keep more or less the same shape to the team and keep the players in the roles which they have filled so impressively recently. If he does Walcott would be the one to bring the least changes to that formation, but I have a feeling Wilshere will be the one to profit if Ramsey doesn't play. 

Swansea have done well recently and their push for Europa League football got a real boost at the weekend with both Spurs and Southampton losing again. They have won four of their last six games and are always a handful for any team they play. Their away form hasn't been great this season and they have struggled to score goals on the road while conceding too many for their own good.

They might play an attractive brand of football and cause problems for any team, but they will have an awful lot to cope with from an Arsenal team who are bang in form. When they turned on the style against Hull they were fantastic and more of the same will give Swansea some real headaches. Arsenal have some of the best attacking players in the league and those players are in great form at the moment. 

The reverse fixture was a bad day at the office for Arsenal when they went ahead away to Swansea, but ended up losing 2-1. That game came in what was probably Arsenal's lowest point of the season just after they had blown a three goal lead to draw with Anderlecht and just before losing at home to United. Things have changed an awful lot since then though and Arsenal have been the best team in the league in the second half of the season.

Since the midway point of the season Arsenal have taken 37 points from 15 games and that's the sort of form which wins league titles if it can be continued for a whole season. Last season Arsenal led the way for a long time, but fell away when they lost some of their better players to injury and the pressure was on them. This season they started slowly as they again missed players through injuries and the return of most of those players has coincided with the upturn in their form. 

The real test for them will be whether they can persevere with that form and genuinely challenge for the league next season. The squad seems to have everything it needs to do just that and there's money available to improve it further this summer too. The excuses of these past two seasons have been tough to take at times, but I don't think any will be acceptable next season.

Of course Chelsea, City and United will have plenty of money to spend and will all believe they will have what it takes to win the league next season too. I don't expect Arsenal to romp away with the title next season and I won't even be overly put out if they don't win it as long as they genuinely challenge to the best of their ability. The time for excuses is over and the players and management have to show they have what it takes from day one of the new season.

Until then they have to make the most of what is left of this season starting with Swansea and continuing on to the FA Cup final against Villa. They're already unbeaten in their last 10 league games and it would be great for them to see out the rest of the season unbeaten as well as retaining the cup. They are only five games to go and five wins in those games would be fantastic and this team are more than capable of it. 

I expect Swansea to make a real game of it, but Arsenal have the attacking quality to punish them at any time. Not only that but they have improved an awful lot in defence and they seem to have just the right combination at the moment. I think they will win tonight, but they will have to be at their best and not underestimate a dangerous Swansea team.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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