Arsenal moved two points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 win at Swansea on Saturday Night Football. After a goalless first-half, Aaron Ramsey's incredible run of form continued with an assist for Serge Gnabry before he drilled the ball home to double the lead.
Although Ben Davies pulled one back late on, there was no way back for Michael Laudrup's side as their run of games without a win at home extended to eight. For Arsenal, this was an eighth successive away win and - given results elsewhere - a victory that gives Gunners fans hope of a title tilt.
Here we take a look at the positioning of Jack Wilshere, the wastefulness of Dwight Tiendalli and the growing partnership between Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in our in-depth analysis of the match using Opta data...
Swansea were without Ashley Williams due to an ankle ligament injury so Jordi Amat came in for his Premier League debut in the centre of defence. Angel Rangel was also unavailable, resulting in an opportunity for Tiendalli at right-back.
Jonathan De Guzman was selected as part of a midfield trio alongside Jose Canas and Jonjo Shelvey so Michu was pushed further forwards as a lone striker. Expensive summer acquisition Wilfried Bony had to settle for a place on the bench.
Arsene Wenger named the same starting line-up from the home game against Stoke City last weekend. That meant a third appearance in a week for Gnabry, deputising on the right wing for injury victim Theo Walcott. "They do miss Walcott," said Jamie Redknapp in the studio. "They'll miss his pace."
Santi Cazorla was also missing on the opposite flank so star midfielder Wilshere was asked to play slightly out of position cutting in from a wide position on the left.
Where it was won and lost
The positioning of Wilshere appeared as though it could prove a real issue for Arsenal in the first half. "I don't think it suits Jack Wilshere playing out there," said Redknapp at half-time. "He's really struggling. Every time he gets it he wants to come inside."
During the latter stages of the half, Wilshere raised his arms in apparent despair as Tiendalli once again raided forward past him with the Arsenal man drawn to the ball. It was a clear sign he was uncomfortable in the role. With Tiendalli as the outlet, Swansea focused their passing down the right.
Unfortunately for Swansea, while the battle between Nathan Dyer and Kieran Gibbs was an intriguing one with the Gunners full-back having to come up with one last-ditch tackle to deny the winger, Tiendalli proved ineffective in utilising the space afforded to him in support. Three times before the break, the full-back had the opportunity to cross but his delivery was poor.
Although both sides retained the ball efficiently with Swansea enjoying 55.7 per cent of possession before the interval, killer balls were in short supply. In fact, there were no shots on target in the first half. "It's not been the classic we'd hoped," said Niall Quinn on commentary. "The defences are holding out the probing midfield play."
Arsenal's midfield pair of Ramsey and Flamini deserve much of the credit for that. So impressive has Flamini been on his return to the club that it has already become a cliché to claim his impact has been quietly effective - everyone is aware of it. The Frenchman's savvy in the centre looks to have helped organise the team and his use of the ball against Swansea was impeccable.
While Ramsey started the campaign in fine style without Flamini around, the arrival of his central midfield partner has allowed this early form to be maintained. With Flamini as the anchor, Ramsey threw himself into tackles - making seven in all - and was able to drive forward to join in with the attacks.
|Swansea v Arsenal - Most Tackles|
That proved significant in the second half. Gnabry, who had produced the first shot on target soon after the interval, found the breakthrough after a lengthy build-up in which Ramsey was heavily involved. Notably, Wilshere cut inside to good effect before Ramsey's awareness put Gnabry through to finish low into the far corner.
Ramsey's confidence is evidently high and another burst forwards should have been rewarded with a second assist soon afterwards but Mesut Ozil saw his near-post effort saved by Michel Vorm. No matter. Ramsey then had a goal of his own as Arsenal showed their ability to score on the counter-attack too with the Welshman's flick coming back to him via Wilshere and Olivier Giroud for him to double the lead.
By that point, Laudrup had tried to change it by bringing on Bony for Shelvey in an effort to add more firepower. The Ivorian almost seized upon a poor Wilshere back-pass to reduce Arsenal's advantage before turning provider with a speculative flick over the top that the onrushing Davies forced home to score.
But there was to be no equaliser. Ultimately, Swansea's neat build-up play lacked the cutting edge. Improbably, that's being provided for Arsenal by Aaron Ramsey. Top of the table and with their rivals struggling, it remains to be seen just how long that can continue.
"We did well in the first half, but we defended too deep for the first goal, there were a lot of bodies but when you are that deep one or two quality players can create a chance like they did. We then lost our position. The players wanted to go forward immediately to get the equaliser and when you do that you leave space for Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey and you can have problems, they created a chance and scored the other. I am disappointed that for 10-12 minutes we gave it away, we were punished in a very small period of the game."
"The first half was a bit difficult. I felt we were a bit slow in our combination play and Swansea were sharper than us. It was a question of patience without making mistakes. In the second half we were at a much higher level. We came out with a purpose. We gave them too much space and too much room in the first half and we didn't show enough purpose. It was all a bit cautious - playing it back instead of trying to play it forwards. But we had that purpose in the second half."
"Aaron Ramsey is their go-to man at the moment. I felt all game he was the person they looked to. He was outstanding again in the second half. He drove his team on. Last year he wasn't driving into these areas. It's the confidence he's playing with. I was critical of Jack Wilshere in the first half but in the second half he really came into his own. They've still got options such as Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to come back in too. There are so many options for Arsene Wenger."
How long can this go on? Ramsey's astonishing goalscoring run continued as he netted his ninth goal of the season for club and country in just 12 appearances. Playing with freedom and confidence in his favoured central midfield position, Ramsey has been a revelation with his form surprising his own fans as much as the general public. With a goal and an assist here, he was named the man of the match. "Ramsey's second-half performance lit up this game," said Quinn. "Not only his goal but his overall performance."