Arsenal endured a bitter-sweet experience in the Champions League on Wednesday, pluckily beating Bayern Munich in the second leg of their last-16 tie but losing it overall on the away-goals rule. Their powers of recovery, mental as well as physical, were tested to the limit back in the Premier League and they emerged narrowly unscathed.
Defeat against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium had become unthinkable. A draw would have been none too healthy either. If Arsenal wish to compete for a 16th successive season in the Champions League, three points was imperative from the visit to South Wales.
As it is, all that victory maintained was the status quo. Should Chelsea overcome West Ham United at Stamford Bridgetomorrow, they will swiftly re-establish their five-point lead over Arsenal in fourth place and it will be back – after temporarily reducing the gap to two points – to square one for Arsène Wenger.
Still, a win was as much as the Arsenal manager could hope for and he got it through late goals from Nacho Monreal and Gervinho. "Our attitude was outstanding, even when our legs were a little less fresh," Wenger said. "We kept going until the very end. It is difficult to win away in the Premier League three days after playing in the Champions League. I congratulate my players.
"How important was it? We'll know at the end of the season. But it [the three points] was absolutely wanted. We couldn't afford to drop any points today. Maybe the win in Munich transformed a little bit of belief in the team. It was probably down to the first team to score today and we did that."
Wenger is nothing if not stubborn and here he reaffirmed his decision to drop the captain, Thomas Vermaelen, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny for the ultimately fruitless trip to Munich despite the gutsy 2-0 triumph. Szczesny did not even travel to Germany, with Wenger citing his "mental tiredness," while Vermaelen was a non-playing substitute. Neither player started at the Liberty, though Szczesny at least warmed the bench this time alongside Vermaelen. Mikel Arteta again took over the captaincy.
Swansea have already booked their continental ticket for next season, courtesy of the 5-0 drubbing of Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final that secured their berth in the Europa League. The sweet-flowing football that they exhibited at Wembley was quickly on show here but it was Arsenal who carved out the first opportunity.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut in from the left and cruelly exposed Angel Rangel's lack of positioning and pace. He also spotted that the Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm was fractionally off his line and curled over a delightful effort that clipped the top of the crossbar. If that was perhaps a touch of good fortune for the home side, they responded, as always, with a fluidity and belief that has become their trademark.
Michu should have done better, when released by a perfect pass from Ki Sung-yueng, but he scuffed his shot as Laurent Koscielny challenged at the last moment. As Arsenal attempted similar pass-and-go tactics, which the greasy surface enhanced rather than hindered, Swansea were forced to backtrack on numerous occasions.Michu had another opportunity to open the scoring, after a scramble in the Arsenal area, but drove wide, with Lukasz Fabianski, Szczesny's stand-in, unprotected. With both defences appearing solid, long-distance pot-shots were the best option. Otherwise there seemed to be no way through. Oxlade-Chamberlain produced a 30-yard effort that Vorm got nowhere near but it skimmed off the bar and behind to safety.
Swansea were sluggish. "There was nothing wrong with our attitude," their manager, Michael Laudrup, said. "I thought it was going to finish 0-0 and in games like that the first goal can decide it. That's what happened. It was a strange goal but they all count."
Count it did, the half-hit effort from Monreal – a £9m signing from Málaga on transfer deadline day in January – drifting past the possibly unsighted Vorm. It was his first goal for the club. The substitute Gervinho added the second in stoppage time, guiding home from close range. Between them they kept Arsenal's season alive.