Danny Graham's winner earned Swansea a stunning victory over Arsenal in a thrilling game
Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home. When they won trophies, they could quite rightly claim to be the best side to watch in England – even, with some justification, in Europe – and that was often the case during the barren run which stretches back to 2005 (if regular title challenges and Champions League football can truly be seen as barren). So they might not have won anything for nearly seven years, but during that period Arsenal have occupied the moral high ground, pointing to the show they put on for their fans, the youth in the side and the relative lack of money spent, at least compared to their closest rivals. Great football doesn't necessarily win you medals, but it will always win you admirers; watch Arsenal and you knew you would be entertained, often at both ends.
However this season there has been a slight shift in focus, a more considered air about them, which must be viewed as a direct consequence of the trauma of the summer, when Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were sold, Marouane Chamakh wasn't, Jack Wilshere got injured and it all culminated in the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. Since then, they have taken a step back. Less gung-ho, a bit slower, a little more experienced and, at the moment, lacking the va-va-voom that once defined them.
Still, they're not far off the top four, and this is the sort of the game that they should enjoy. Tentatively people are beginning to wonder if Swansea are the new Arsenal – the lack of defensive cock-ups surely puts paid to that notion – and even if they are playing more like Arsenal than Arsenal. One thing they are not is the new Blackpool; despite the commitment to free-flowing football, Brendan Rodgers has also realised the value of a solid defence, and his side have only let in 23 goals in 20 games. Compare that to their fellow promoted sides, Norwich and QPR, who have both let in 36. Manchester United and Tottenham are among the visitors who have struggled at the Liberty Stadium this season. You never know, it might not only be Barcelona who can keep the ball off Arsenal.
Team news: Swansea are as expected, lining up in their neat 4-5-1 formation, with Xavi-lite Leon Britton pulling the strings in the middle and plenty of pace in the wide positions. Arsenal are without a host of defenders, but Per Mertesacker has recovered from an illness, while Yossi Benayoun replaces Mikel Arteta, who has a knee injury. They also have new French signing Thierry Henry on the bench. We don't know much about him, but he looked promising against Leeds.
Swansea: Vorm, Rangel, Caulker, Williams, Taylor; Dyer, Britton, Allen, Agustien, Sinclair; Graham. Subs: Tremmel, Richards, Monk, Routledge, Sigurdsson, Moore, Lita.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Miquel; Song, Ramsey, Benayoun; Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin. Subs: Almunia, Yennaris, Squillaci, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henry, Park.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
An email. "Your MBM starts by announcing that "Brendan Rodgers has also realised the value of a solid defence, and his side have only let in 23 goals in 21 games. Compare that to their fellow promoted sides, Norwich and QPR, who have both let in 26'," copy and pastes a nameless reader. "Surely even more impressive is that QPR have actually conceded 35, and Norwich 36? And Swansea have only played 20 matches, unless of course you are subtly hinting we should be down the bookies right now backing Vorm for man of the match."
QPR have conceded 36 goals. I accept your apology. And yes, Swansea have played 20 games, but what's your point? Do you expect them to concede 13 goals today?
Fred Lane has rancour on his mind. "A good thing Scholes got some playing time yesterday - maybe he'll be fit enough to put in a reducer on Henry come Sunday," he says.
Enjoying a typically rowdy Saturday night, I found myself watching Match of the Day. During his analysis of Blackburn v Fulham, Alan Shearer mistook Yakubu for Christopher Samba and Brede Hangeland for David Wheater. Fulham's David Wheater. Punditry's Alan Shearer.
The teams are out. "It's LIVE!" bellows Martin Tyler. A fine commentator, probably the best around now, but this must end.
1 min: Off we go. We hear that Arsene Wenger isn't happy about the pitch, due to a rugby game being played on it recently. This may be referenced later. Swansea get us going, kicking off from right to left in a very noisy Liberty Stadium. Aaron Ramsey gets a touch early on and is booed for his Cardiff City connections. It's a decent start from Swansea, Agustien dodging Benayoun and firing well wide from long range. "Before this thing gets rolling I just wanted to point out, in case you were not aware and to prevent any possible spoilers, that over here in the U. S. of A. only the first episode of the second season of Downton Abbey has aired," says J.R. in Illinois. How quaint! "I say this because on Friday morning I was listening to some soccer program from England on satellite radio and out of nowhere they gave away one of the major plot lines. Needless to say that was a very disheartening start to my day." That's the one with the zombies, isn't it?
2 min: A worrying sign for Swansea, as Arsenal carve them open at will. Song drills a pass to Van Persie, who instantly steers a header through to Walcott, Swansea's defence nowhere to be seen. Clean through on goal, Walcott makes a mess of the chance though, the ball bouncing off his thigh, and the danger is cleared.
GOAL! Swansea 0-1 Arsenal (Van Persie, 5 min): This is a sublime goal from the best striker in the Premier League. Swansea haven't really been close to Arsenal yet at all, and have been allowing them to stroke the ball about as and when they please. Arshavin drifted in from the left, and was found by Song in a central position. With no pressure on him, he slid a lovely ball through to Van Persie, who had hared away on the right of the area. He drew Vorm, waited an age, dummied to shoot and then, as the goalkeeper fell for his trick and went to ground, he just calmly chipped into the near post with his little-used right foot. Arsenal seem very keen to quash all this talk of Swansea being the new them.
7 min: Agustien finds Graham in behind the Arsenal defence, but he'd moved into an offside position and is flagged accordingly.
8 min: That assist might well have been the first productive thing Andrey Arshavin has done for Arsenal since his winner against Barcelona last year. Maybe the presence of Thierry Henry will force him to up his game. Arsenal certainly need Arshavin now that Gervinho is off at the Africa Cup of Nations. He has the talent, so his struggles make little sense.
10 min: "All this talk of pass completions is nonsense," huffs Gary Naylor. "That one pass yesterday by Landon Donovan was worth a thousand sideways balls. Even Victor Anichebe couldn't miss!" Yes, but you have to get into the position to make the decisive pass in the first place.
11 min: Swansea are yet to settle on the ball and look nervous, despite trying to play it out from the back. "I bumped into Martin Tyler in a St Pancras toilet just before Christmas after we both attended the Spurs Chelsea game," says Fraser Thomas. "I think he's terrific but I did want to warn him off the "and it's liiiive" stuff. But it wasn't the time or place."
14 min: Agustien tries to cross from the right, but Benayoun blocks it with his arms. A free-kick to Swansea in a promising position.
15 min: The free-kick is a complete waste of time. "A bit unfair on Arshavin who did make the decisive pass to RVP against QPR and for Park against Bolton in the Carling Cup, so that makes 2 contributions since the Barcelona game," notes John David.
16 min: PENALTY TO SWANSEA! A cross from the left comes to Dyer in the area. He has his back to goal, but produces a fine piece of skill, turning away from Ramsey, who clips his heels. Michael Oliver points to the spot immediately.
GOAL! Swansea 1-1 Arsenal (Sinclair pen, 17 min): Szczesny goes the right way, but Sinclair's penalty, low and hard into the bottom-right corner with his right foot is far too good for him. Swansea were coming back into the game before this, and probably merit the equaliser.
18 min: This is terrific entertainment now. Van Persie pokes a pass through to Ramsey, who's through on goal, but almost too close to goal to shoot, with Vorm out quickly. Ramsey thinks quickly though, takes the ball around the goalkeeper, and then raps the ball into the six-yard box. It comes off the unwitting Caulker and heads towards his own goal, only for Williams to clear off the line and Vorm to gather. What an escape.
20 min: Swansea have had 59% of the possession. Against Arsenal. "Shall we just attach the words hapless & forlorn to Theo Walcott's name now or will you be waiting till the 20th minute then?" parps Nicholas Kingdrummer. Come on, give him a bit of time.
22 min: Miquel bombs down the left and hoicks a deep cross to the far post to Walcott, whose volley is cleared by Williams in the six-yard box. "Listening on the radio, immediately after Swansea conceded the commentator wondered aloud if Swansea weren't getting a little bit carried away with all the hype," says Harry Tuttle. "Surely it's time to make this cliche a taboo? It's not Swansea who have been devoting air time and column inches to their own brilliance. It's not Swansea who suddenly look a bit hasty proclaiming themselves the best thing since sliced Arsenal."
23 min: "8th goal of season in the league with his right peg," says Andrew Clark, of Robin van Persie's goal. "Now if he was to score with his head that would be different." Ok, but he tends to use his right foot as a last resort. Even Arsene Wenger admits as much.
25 min: What a waste from Scott Sinclair. After Swansea had made something of a mess from a short corner, it appeared the chance had gone, but Arsenal went to sleep after it, allowing Sinclair, in acres of space, to be found by an astute pass by Dyer. He could have shot or found a team-mate, but wafted a dreadful cross out for a goal-kick.
27 min: Arsenal enjoy a rare foray into Swansea's half, but Ramsey's driving run comes to nothing, Williams cutting out his through-ball. Swansea are the much sharper side at the moment, but much of their good work is being undone in the final third.
29 min: Van Persie nearly scores his and Arsenal's second with his right foot. The chance came from a collector's item, a misplaced pass from Britton, straight to Benayoun. With Williams having vacated his central defensive station, the Israeli has a simple task of playing Van Persie through, with only one Swansea defender back. He does so, and Van Persie bears down on Vorm again, only to hit his shot too close to the goalkeeper.
31 min: Arsenal keep giving silly free-kicks away around their area; this time it's Benayoun with a trip on Allen over on the right...
32 min: ... and Swansea go close to taking the lead. Allen again sends the free-kick deep to the far post, and Caulker meets the cross and heads it back across goal. The header was going wide, but it only needed a touch from a team-mate, and had to be headed away by [insert Arsenal defender here].
34 min: "Back when he scored 100 goals for Arsenal, stats were produced showing that he scores almost a quarter of his goals with his right foot (23%) if you exclude penalties," says Thomas Prior. "That's high." Consider me told.
36 min: The lively Dyer reaches the byline and turns a cross into the six-yard box, forcing Mertesacker into a desperate clearance with Graham in close attendance. Arsenal break up the other end in a flash, but Van Persie's attempt to combine with Ramsey is thwarted by Vorm. "I am intrigued by Ramsey's reception today," says Rob Lowery. "Considering he is the national captain and one of two outstanding young players in the national team, the other of whom while highly effective could probably double up as a rugby winger, I might have thought this might temper local rivalry. It's not like Cardiff Swansea has any cultural , political or sectarian undertones ( that I am aware of)." What he said. It's very strange behaviour.
39 min: Arsenal just haven't replaced Thierry Henry (since Monday).
40 min: Williams pings a super pass out to the right for Dyer. He brings it down in accomplished fashion and then charges at Miquel, coming inside and then rattling a fierce shot straight at Szczesny. Dyer is having a very impressive game.
43 min: "Can anyone tell me what Walcott's full time job is?" says Ciaran McGowan. "Assuming he just plays football as a hobby." He looks like a competition winner today. It increasingly looks like he's never quite going to make it. Maybe Chris Waddle was right all along.
45 min: Britton tugs back Miquel on the left and with no advantage to be gained, a free-kick is awarded. Arshavin whips in a flat delivery which Walcott of all people flicks on, but it's straight at Vorm. There will be two more minutes of this first half.
Peep! Peep! There's the half-time whistle, bringing an end to an engaging first half.
Half time: Swansea 1-1 Arsenal. Arsenal started strongly, but then stopped playing after around five minutes. Since then it's not exactly been all Swansea, but they've dominated, without really creating any chances. The pattern will probably stay the same in the second half, but it does have the whiff on an Arsenal smash-and-grab, given that they do seem more likely to fashion a clear chance.
Allow me to revise an entry made in the 18th minute. There was never a replay during the game, and what actually happened was that Ramsey's shot was cleared off the line by Caulker and the ball eventually ended up in the arms of Vorm. It's not me noggin, it's me peepers.
46 min: So, how about those video replays, eh? At half time, it was shown that rather than awarding Swansea a penalty for a foul by Ramsey on Dyer, it should have been the other way round, as Dyer trod on Ramsey. Given the recent furore about high tackles, Dyer could even have been sent off. That's really odd. Swansea have made a change at half time, Gylfi Sigurdsson on for Agustien. Arsenal start the second half as they mean to go on, Van Persie releasing Walcott, whose shot from an angle is high and wide.
47 min: Miquel whips a cross into the centre, which just evades Van Persie in the middle. Meanwhile, more on that penalty. "When I watched the game I thought it was a stonewall pen but now in the half time analysis it was shown that Dyer kicked Ramsey in the shin and then fell over for the penalty," says Haris Odobasic. "Can we please, please, please get video technology for the refs? That's something even three refs on the field couldn't have spotted."
48 min: That's more like the Arshavin we've come to know and pity, the Russian leaning back - as the coaching manuals advise - and walloping a shot into orbit from the edge of the area.
49 min: Does Theo Walcott ever look like beating a full-back? He was easily brushed off the ball by Taylor here, the left-back utterly untroubled by Walcott's attempt to take him on.
50 min: Dyer drops the shoulder, dips inside and then sends a swerver a few yards wide of the right post, though Szczesny didn't appear to be particularly bothered about the shot.
53 min: This is the closest either side have come for a long time. Allen receives a pass from the left, lets it run across his body and rolls away from Song, before whacking a vicious shot just past the right post from 25 yards. Szczesny was worried about that one. "It's the same old story - an English club being handed a footballing lesson by a foreign club," honks Gary Naylor.
55 min: "I'm in a pub watching the game and the audio is about 5 seconds ahead of the picture," says Adam Subkow. "Even before Theo Walcott had that shot I knew it was flying over the bar." I was once in a bar in Cyprus and they had the radio commentary on alongside the television. The radio was a split second ahead of the TV, which somewhat lessened the surprise of a goal being scored.
GOAL! Swansea 2-1 Arsenal (Dyer, 57 min): This is not Aaron Ramsey's afternoon. The Wales captain is not enjoying his return to his home country. With Swansea pressing high in Arsenal's half, Ramsey was to slow in possession and was pickpocketed by the ever-eager Allen. He ran at the Arsenal defence, assessed his options and then produced a wonderfully nonchalant pass, finding Dyer clear on the edge of Arsenal's area. It initially looked like he had lost the chance after taking a poor first touch, but he sorted his feet out and then fired over the advancing Szczesny before Song could get across.
59 min: Thierry Henry is getting ready.
61 min: Sigurdsson curves a magnificent pass round Koscielny and through to Graham. He can't quite get the ball out of his feet though and Koscielny recovers to concede a corner on the right.
62 min: This should have been 3-1 to Swansea. Sigurdsson sends the corner to the near post and Graham gets ahead of Song, but completely misses his header.
63 min: Send for the cavalry: Thierry Henry and Tomas Rosicky replace the anonymous Arshavin and Benayoun. They'll need to make an instant impact to turn this game around though, because it's currently one-way traffic. Sigurdsson has a pop from the edge of the area, but it's a wayward effort.
65 min: Rosicky shoots wide from 25 yards out. At least it's a bit of encouragment for Arsenal who, just like the first half, have wilted after the first five minutes. "It's interesting isn't it how the enduring impression of Theo Walcott in England is of some kind of half-wit chancer, but then you have people like Messi saying things like 'I can only speak from experience but Walcott is one of the toughest players we've faced'," notes Angus Chisholm. If you can get him in behind, he's very dangerous, but he's very effective if he has to create something for himself. He just doesn't look like he knows what to do.
68 min: "If we play like this next week, might be 8-2 at home..." glooms Allan Castle.
GOAL! Swansea 2-2 Arsenal (Walcott, 69 min): Theo Walcott makes us all look very stupid, running on to a fantastic pass from Djourou and chipping Vorm in fine fashion.
BUT HANG ON! Swansea 3-2 Arsenal (Graham, 70 min): Oh Arsenal. No sooner had they hauled themselves level, they fall behind straight from the kick-off, and it's another superbly taken goal. Sigurdsson produces a carbon copy of his earlier pass through to Graham, with Koscielny caught gawping again. Szczesny perhaps got his angles wrong, offering Grahahm too big a target and he finished clinically, clipping a low shot into the far corner from the right side of the area. Now, can they hold on to it?
72 min: Both sides have pretty much given up with defending now. And why not? Henry wins a corner for Arsenal on the right, and the cross into the middle lands at Mertesacker after more indecisive defending from Swansea. The German is all of three yards out and simply has to score, but he just throws a big club-foot at it and slashes comically wide - embarrassingly wide - of the left post. What a galoot.
76 min: Theo Walcott might be the ultimate confidence player. Having scored, he's now full of life and runs at Taylor, beats the left-back and whacks in a low cross that Williams puts behind. Van Persie's corner is punched away by Vorm.
77 min: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is on for Mertesacker, punishment for his horrific miss. Song will move to centre-back. Oxlade-Chamberlain's only Premier League appearance was at Old Trafford; there's still time for this to finish 8-2.
78 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain is straight into the action, charging down the left and looking for Henry in the middle. Williams desperately hangs out a boot and diverts the cross up into the air. Under pressure from Henry, Vorm, who's only 6ft, punches away.
80 min: Swansea almost wrap up the game with a picture-book goal. Arsenal. chasing shadows, are sliced open by Sinclair and Rangel on the right. The right-back marauds inside and then plays Graham in, the striker finding himself in a similar position to where he scored his goal. But instead of shooting, he tries to play one more pass back to Rangel, and doesn't quite get it right. That settles it, they are the new Arsenal. We just need a last-minute implosion now.
82 min: Nathan Dyer gets a standing ovation for his efforts as he goes off to be replaced by Wayne Routledge.
83 min: Ramsey nearly redeems himself with a bullet header, but it's straight at Vorm. Either side of him, and that was surely a goal. "I couldn't believe it when Wenger signed Mertersaker," says Ian Burch. "If he wanted a German stopper then he should have signed Big Bob Huth. I imagine that Wenger was too snobby to sign a player from Stoke. Mertersaker makes Ian Ure look like a former Arsenal great."
84 min: Henry picks up possession just inside Swansea's half. In times gone by, he might have done it all himself, but instead he looks for a younger team-mate and knocks a pass through to Walcott. It's just over-hit though, allowing Caulker to come across, usher Walcott away from goal and eventually dispossess him.
86 min: Gylfi Sigurdsson has been excellent since his introduction at half time. He looked like a real prospect for Reading in 2010, but is yet to make a much of an impression this season. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger is reacting to adversity with typical maturity on the touchline, and is told in no uncertain terms to stop complaining by Michael Oliver.
87 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain breaks down the left, into the area. He loses his footing at first, but recovers to stand up a cross to Rosicky on the other side of the area, but the Czech's Van Basten tribute wonks over.
89 min: Rosicky charges away from Allen and unleashes a piledriver from 25 yards out. Vorm is equal to it, pushing it out, and is then up quickly to snaffle Koscielny's acrobatic follow-up.
90 min: Taylor brings down Walcott on the right, five yards outside the area...
90 min+1: Van Persie coaxes the free-kick in from the right, but Rangel heads away. Wenger is now crouching down like Villas-Boas on the touchline. Young at heart. There will be four minutes of stoppage time.
90 min+3: Van Persie twists and turns on the edge of the area - and there's a huge roar as Allen tackles him. Koscielny then gives away a free-kick in Swansea's half, allowing them to bring on Leroy Lita for potential matchwinner Danny Graham.
90 min+4: Arsenal are ragged now. This is hardly backs-to-the-wall stuff from Swansea.
Peep! Peep! Peep! And there is the final whistle! New Arsenal have beaten Old Arsenal in a spectacularly thrilling match.
Post-match thoughts: Arsenal can't complain. Swansea were the better side and are now up to 10th place. They really do play some fine football, and the possession stats will definitely be in their favour. Arsenal were swamped at times, rarely able to force any sustained pressure. Defensive lapses let them down and they didn't create enough. They're now four points behind Chelsea after a second successive away defeat. Hey, maybe Wenger will spe ... Thanks for reading. Bye.