When Arsenal played its first match against a newly-promoted team last campaign, it was Blackpool who made the trip to the Emirates. Arsenal trounced them 6-0 to kick-start our season, as we went on to win five of the next seven games, losing only one (home vs West Brom).
This time Arsenal needs to win, and win big like against Blackpool. But the purpose is not simply to gain three points, nor to push the team away from the unfamiliar surroundings of the relegation zone. The most important reason to win this game is for the minds of the players.
It may be a long time, perhaps a few generations, until Arsenal players have to experience the pain and humiliation of such a resounding defeat to one of their rivals. Losing 8-2 to Man Utd was more than missing out on three points – it is the psychological damage which may haunt us for weeks, if not months to come.
After failing to win in the first three league games, getting three red cards in those matches, losing key players to injury and losing two of our star players this summer, this team needs some good news. Yes, we did get through to the Champions League group stages by beating Udinese, but that doesn’t stop the negativity surrounding the club from the press, pundits, ex-players and even the fans.
Swansea City AFC
In July 2001, Swansea City was sold for £1. The Swans were playing in League Two in the 2004/05 season, only a few years ago. Now the club is the first Welsh team to play in the Premier League (est.1992).
This meteoric rise is highly impressive, and Swansea hasn’t had a terrible start to the season either, as the club sits 15th in the league table. After holding their own for an hour against moneybags Manchester City, Swansea succumbed to a 4-0 loss. The following two games against Wigan and Sunderland both ended 0-0. However, the Welsh side did lose to Arsenal’s next Carling Cup opponents, Shrewsbury Town, a few weeks ago.
Swansea has been lauded for its passing game, but a lack of quality up front has cost them. With players such as Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair and Leroy Lita, they have strikers who know English football. Their manager said the following:
“If after 10 games we haven’t scored a goal and haven’t got a result then there’s certainly something to look at.
“But the most important aspect for me is that we’re creating chances.”
Looking at their squad, Swansea shouldn’t pose much of a problem for Arsenal’s defence. But it does depend on how our players react to the game at Old Trafford.
Arsenal has won just 5 of the last 20 competitive fixtures (Leyton Orient, Blackpool, Man Utd and twice vs Udinese) since that awful day at Wembley in February. We also endured a poor pre-season, winning only two out of six matches and failing to get our hands on that sought-after Emirates Cup.
Swansea finished last season very strongly, losing only 5 out of the last 20 competitive games. However, with just one goal in four matches this campaign (against a League Two side), recent form is quite poor.
Arsenal and Swansea have only faced each other four times, with each team winning twice. The most recent fixture was in January 1983, when Arsenal won the game 2-1.
Arsenal Team News
Injured: Wilshere, Vermaelen, Diaby, Squillaci
Doubtful: Rosicky, André Santos, Chu Young Park, Ryo
Suspended: Gervinho, Song, Jenkinson
New signings Santos and Park are unavailable and Rosicky faces a late fitness test. Those who are excited to see Ryo Miyaichi play for us will have to wait a bit longer. Wenger says he will be in contention for next week. Sagna should be returning from his illness given that he played the full 90 minutes for France on Tuesday. This is my team prediction:
With a few players returning from fitness and the new signings at the helm, their should be an air of optimism surrounding the team. Swansea will be tricky customers but I think we will win comfortably, so I’m going for 4-0 to the Arsenal (14/1 with Paddy Power).
Arsenal’s new signing Per Mertesacker hopes that his transition to the Premier league will be smooth. He hopes that he will be able to adapt quickly. The English game is known for its fast pace and physical nature. It is often the case that players that move to the Premier League struggle with the high demands of English football.
Mertesacker has suggested that he is relishing the opportunity to play in the best league in the world. He hopes that his experience, both at an international level and also for his club, will put him in good stead for the challenges that lie ahead.
Here’s what he had to say:
“It is a little bit easier if you have played a World Cup for Germany and I hope I can use my experiences in my career.
“We met England and that is a great experience I have. But I also have to improve myself and that should be my first thought.
“It’s exciting to be here but I have a lot of experience in football so that is OK for me. I am very happy and I am very glad to be here.
“Arsenal is one of the top teams in Europe and I have been looking out for Arsenal since I got my first jersey when I was ten or 12. Arsenal has always been special for me.”
His comments are encouraging. What really impresses me is that he still thinks he can improve. At 26, some footballers may think that they have it all, and that they are the best they can be. Mertesacker is still looking to improve his game, and this is good to hear. The German is already a quality centre back, and will undoubtedly form a strong partnership with Vermaelen (when he returns from injury). If he can improve his game, he will probably become one of the best centre backs in the world.
Reports are spreading rapidly this evening that Thomas Vermaelen could be out for several weeks (if not months) following surgery on his left ankle. Vermaelen spent a prolonged period out of action last season and, if posts (and pictures of tomorrow’s Daily Mirror) across Twitter are to be believed, the Belgian international also looks set to miss a significant part this season. Depending on how long he is out this will be a massive blow to Arsenal Football Club; our vice-captain always plays such a vital role in our team and his presence will be sorely missed.
So far there has been no confirmation of the ankle injury on the official Arsenal website. However, I would think that the club will have to release a statement within the next 24 hours; Vermaelen’s surgery is hardly the worlds best-kept secret, especially if the Daily Mirror do indeed run with the story tomorrow morning. The Mirror article suggests that Vermaelen has already had surgery on his ankle in Stockholm.
This news comes as a bitter blow to Arsenal fans, who heard only a few days ago that we will be without Jack Wilshere for at least another 2 months. In my opinion, it is extremely optimistic to think that Wilshere will play more than 45 minutes in an Arsenal match before the new-year, and from the looks of things it is entirely possible that Vermaelen will go the same way.
With Vermaelen injured, I think that it is pretty clear that Wenger did a fantastic bit of last-minute transfer business in signing German international Per Mertesacker. Had we not signed a new defender (even though it was so obvious to everybody that it was necessary), we would now be relying on the Johan Djourou/Laurent Koscielny partnership, with Squillaci and/or Ignasi Miquel on the bench.
Mertesacker will no doubt prove more than capable of coping with the physicality of the Permier League and will ensure that Vermaelen’s injury does not prove to be too costly. I imagine that he will be pared with Koscielny, although we won’t officially know until we see the starting line-up for our game against Swansea on Saturday.
Sixteen members of the Arsenal first team (including 5 of our new summer signings) have been called to represent their countries over the next few days. Arsenal’s next fixture is against Swansea on September 10th; there are no Premier League fixtures this week as there is a one-week international break. Most players are playing in qualifiers for major international tournaments.
Euro 2012 qualifiers:
- On-loan midfielder Yossi Benayoun will captain Israel in home fixtures against Greece and Croatia.
- New-signing Per Mertesacker will no doubt play a vital part as Germany host Austria in Gelsenkirchen.
- Theo Walcott has been included in Fabio Capello’s England squad and will travel to Sofia (where England face Bulgaria tomorrow evening). Walcott then returns to England next week to play against Wales at Wembley Stadium.
- Aaron Ramsey will captain Wales against Montenegro, and will then take on Theo Walcott and the England team at Wembley.
- Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna face a double away trip. France play against Albania tomorrow night and then head for Romania early next week.
- Andrei Arshavin will captain Russia, who play Macedonia and then the Republic of Ireland in Moscow.
- The Netherlands have called upon Robin van Persie to help them against San Marino in Eindhoven. RvP then heads to Helsinki to face Finland.
- Johan Djourou will represent Switzerland against Bulgaria in Basel next week.
- Thomas Rosicky is included in the Czech Republic squad to face Scotland.
- Thomas Vermaelen is included in the Belgian squad that will travel to Baku to face Azerbaijan.
African Cup of Nations qualifiers:
- Gervinho will travel to Kigali to play for the Ivory Coast against Rwanda.
- Alex Song is included in the Cameroon squad to face Mauritius.
World Cup 2014 qualifiers:
- New-signing Chu Young Park will captain South Korea against Lebanon and Kuwait.
UEFA under-21 Championship qualifiers:
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will represent the England Under-21′s against Azerbaijan and Israel.
- After his Euro 2012 qualifier against Azerbaijan, Thomas Vermaelen will return to Belgium for a friendly against the United States.
- Thomas Rosicky will travel from Scotland back to the Czech Republic, where they will host Ukraine.
- Wojeich Szczesny is included in the Poland squad for friendlies against Mexico and Per Mertesacker’s Germany.
We wish all our players the best of luck in these international matches, and I bloody well hope they don’t get injured!