Friday, October 30, 2015

Match Preview, Swansea City v Arsenal: Beware the Welsh Bogeyman

A Halloween trip to South Wales should be a scary enough prospect for Arsenal.

Swansea City have sent shivers down Gunners’ spines under current Swans boss Garry Monk, who took over in February 2014. Monk has an undefeated record against Arsenal, having won both league encounters last season and drawn the match at the Emirates in March 2014.

That recent record is just one ominous sign for the fraidy-cats among Arsenal supporters. They’re also trepidacious about the prospect of fielding an ill-equipped attacker on the right side due to the injuries of six first-team players capable of playing that position. With Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, and Tomas Rosicky all out, manager Arsène Wenger has hinted that he’ll choose between Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi.

The thinking here is that Campbell will get the nod. The Costa Rican international has at least some pedigree at the senior level and the defensive experience to help right back Hector Bellerin cope with Swansea’s tricky winger Jefferson Montero.

Although Swansea’s recent success against Arsenal and the instability at one position figure prominently in the pre-match horror stories, the prospects might not be that frightening after all. That’s because Swansea have struggled to create a consistent offensive threat.

Yes, the Swans famously came from a goal down to beat Manchester United in late August. But since then, they’ve won just one of six league matches. In that stretch, they’ve been held scoreless by Stoke, Everton, and Watford.

As Adrian Clarke noted in this week’s Official Arsenal Weekly podcast, Stoke stifled Swansea by funneling their hosts’ attacks to the center of the pitch. From there, the Swans could not generate anything incisive. They put just two shots on target of the 14 they attempted.

Swansea’s inefficiency grew out of the source of their shots: nine of the 14 came from outside the penalty area. That’s consistent with the team’s choices and production throughout this league campaign, during which they’ve taken 67 of 131 shots (51 percent) from outside the area. Only Watford has tried a higher proportion of shots from that inefficient part of the pitch. (Stats from

Given the provenance of these attempts on goal, it’s perhaps not surprising that Swansea have scored just nine non-penalty goals on their own. Two penalties and an own goal take the total to 12.

By contrast, Arsenal have netted 16 goals, none from penalties and two from opposition own goals. The secret has been a heightened focus on shooting from dangerous areas: According to Squawka, the Gunners’ 142 shots from within the penalty area (of 197 total shots) lead the league and are 27 percent higher than shots from similar positions by Manchester City, which ranks second.

This set of statistics shows how Arsenal can survive a visit to the Liberty Stadium—maintain defensive discipline, force Swansea’s dangerous wide attackers André Ayew and Montero into the middle, and continue to take high-quality shots on goal.

Players to Watch

Arsenal: Francis Coquelin. If Arsenal succeed at directing Swansea’s attack to the center of the pitch, Coquelin will be the player to stop the moves and start Arsenal’s offense. His distribution has improved greatly this season (see 7AM Kickoff), so that the creative geniuses of Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla have been able to shine.

Swansea City: Ki Sung-yueng. Ayew is the Swans’ top goal scorer, but the Korean midfielder seems the side’s most influential player. He adds control, energy, and the right passing choices to the mix and will be crucial to the contest in the midfield.

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