Date: 2nd February 2018 at 8:37pm
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Carlos Carvalhal’s Swansea City revival continued on Tuesday night as Sam Clucas and Jordan Ayew were the stars of the show, both scoring in another memorable evening at the Liberty Stadium, to another big Premier League scalp.

Many of us were wondering a few weeks ago where the points were going to come from, as we looked ahead at fixtures against Liverpool and Arsenal at home, before travelling to Leicester City.

We were rock bottom when Carvalhal came in – not just in terms of League position, but confidence was as low as it could be, and the former Sheffield Wednesday manager wasn’t given much hope in turning things around anytime in the near future.

Yet, the Portuguese has seen our win tally double since his arrival, from 3 to 6, and we briefly escaped the bottom three following the 3-1 win against, what has to be said, was a very poor and lethargic Arsenal side, who look like they need to be taken in another direction.

Swansea’s more positive tactics compared to vs Liverpool

After netting a brace, midfielder Sam Clucas – who’s like a new signing under Carlos, described how the team felt more confident against Arsenal compared to facing Liverpool the week before.
Swansea were prepared to be more positive, sitting higher up the pitch and willing to apply more pressure in the opposition’s half. Arsenal have a reputation now of being a side that you can trouble if you apply good pressure on their backline. Clucas also spoke about how Arsenal were a side who allow team’s more time and space on the ball, compared to Liverpool who battled to regain possession as quickly as possible.

Again, we adopted a back three, with Jordan Ayew and Nathan Dyer up top in front of Clucas, Fer and Ki.

Swansea’s defensive shape switched between a 5-4-1, 5-3-2 and a 5-2-3, depending on where on the pitch Arsenal were in possession. Compared to playing against Liverpool, when the Swans preferred to sit deep at all times, against Arsenal they were more committed in the opposition’s half.

Below shows the Swans applying pressure on Arsenal just inside their half, whereas against Liverpool they sat back and invited their defenders to bring the ball forward. But against Arsenal, they could afford to release the defensive handbrake so to speak.

Below is another example where Arsenal have possession in the middle of the pitch. Leroy Fer pushes forward alongside Ayew, replacing Dyer who drops back to defend wide right in front of Naughton. Clucas is also breaking out from midfield to apply pressure.

As Arsenal get closer to the final third, Swansea quickly drop back, ensuring a 5-4-1 compact shape in a tight area, limiting the space and providing opportunities to win possession and quickly counter. Arsenal’s shape was awful throughout; they left huge open gaps behind them on the attack and were defensively vulnerable down their left side.

Swansea’s counter-attacking potential

Swansea City’s balanced game plan was near-perfect, and it was unfortunate that one lapse of concentration allowed Arsenal to take the lead against the run of play.

Arsenal’s shape, pushing players forward meant that there were huge open spaces that the Swans could use to counter-attack. Arsenal’s lackadaisical approach and Swansea’s tight and compact defensive shape and tenaciousness meant that they could win possession on the edge of their first third, before playing long, direct balls into space where players would be racing into.

Liverpool were more compact on the attack, their defence and midfield would be close together as Matip or van Dijk would bring the ball forward inside our half, but Arsenal were the opposite. The gap between the two was far too great which was often exploited when the Swans won possession.

These were the sorts of areas where the Swans would aim to win possession, and as soon as they did, the likes of Ayew and Clucas would race forward and get in behind as Arsenal were forced to track back.

There were plenty of these similar examples, Swansea City in acres of space in possession – running forward, leaving behind 3, 4 or even more Arsenal players tracking back behind.

Arsenal didn’t solve this problem after the break either. It was such an obvious issue they needed to sort out, but within five minutes of the restart, Swansea City were on the counter-attack once again. Below, Ayew passes to Dyer through the middle with Naughton moving forward down the right. As the ball is played to Dyer, there’s now 6 Arsenal players that we can see in front of the ball – all having to make up ground. Also notice how Clucas moves out wide with Dyer operating as a central attacking midfielder, making attacking runs off the touchline in behind Arsenal’s backline.

Below shows a better angle of the above. A long ball comes across to Naughton on the right, with Dyer operating through the middle. The pass leaves 5 Arsenal players in midfield and out of the game, as Swansea look to get 3 vs 3 in the final third.

Below shows an example of how vulnerable Arsenal’s backline was as a result of their attacking shape, and how the Swans were able to get 4 players forward in attacking support.

As the first half went on, Swansea’s confidence grew and they didn’t need to rely on winning possession in their own half to counter to create goalscoring opportunities.

Arsenal’s pressure on the ball was pretty much non-existent and they allowed Swansea to bring the ball forward towards the final third.

It was refreshing to see the Swans finally attacking through the middle of the pitch again. It was becoming so frustrating seeing Clement’s side constantly moving the ball wide, and the midfielders parting wide too, leaving strikers isolated up top.

Below, Mawson plays the ball into Ayew, and while he does lack support, he’s able to hold the ball up and wait for opportunities to arrive. Ayew did this brilliantly throughout the game and Clucas was always looking to make runs beyond the last defender.

Arsenal’s poor defensive shape down the left

It was no surprise to see that 51% of Swansea’s attacking play was down the right flank in the game. Arsenal’s defensive shape down this side was awful, and Naughton and Dyer had far too much freedom.

Arsenal were too open in other areas too, as they made it too easy for the Swans to penetrate through them. Swans players were unmarked in between the lines and there was rarely pressure being applied to the player in possession.

The goals

Arsenal were fortunate to open the scoring, to say the least, and it was the sort of goal that we were conceding far too often before Carvalhal’s arrival. It was a simple ball played in by Ozil, Naughton, not for the first time this season, fails to notice what’s going on around him, as Monreal runs in behind to finish first time.

Below, as the ball is played in, Naughton is far too slow, and the goalscorer is not even in the picture yet.

Swansea quickly equalise

Some of the points mentioned are shown in the screenshot below. Swansea’s pressure higher up the pitch – regaining possession on the edge of the final third, and a lack of pressure on the ball from Arsenal, as Mawson can wait to pick his moment as he feeds Clucas’ run. Arsenal’s number 29, like Naughton for their first, sees Clucas’ run late, but his efforts to get back and stop him were pathetic.

Swansea take the lead

Arsenal might have made mistakes for the second and third goals, but it was Swansea’s desire, tenacity and positivity to get forward, chase and pressure Arsenal’s back line.

Ayew, Dyer and Clucas form a trio all chasing down Cech, putting him under pressure and forcing the error, allowing Ayew to easily pass the ball into an empty net.

The third goal was another poor mistake by Arsenal as Monreal fails to connect and make a clearance. Substitute Carroll feeds Ayew, who goes on a long run down the right. Arsenal are far too soft, allowing him to get up to the by-line before pulling the ball back for Clucas to finish.

Swansea’s defensive discipline, effort and desire right throughout the game made it difficult for Arsenal to get the ball into key areas to get back into the game. They couldn’t force Fabianski into the same sort of saves he had to make against Liverpool. Their new signing Mkhitaryan came on but he didn’t offer much extra as the final ball was often lacking the required quality.

Arsenal`s slow, uninventive play was always likely to struggle against Swansea`s defensive 5-4-1 system. Despite dominating the last 20 minutes, they couldn`t find a way through as Swansea battled away and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that was the most ground we have covered in a single Premier League game this season.

It paid off, applying pressure high up the pitch as well as dropping into a defensive 5-4-1 shape required a lot of stamina and energy but the players executed the plan brilliantly.