Monday , October 23 2017

Arsenal see off Swansea to remain hot on City’s heels

Manchester United’s Dutch midfielder Daley Bling (right), vies with Crystal Palace’s Ivorian-born English striker Wilfried Zaha during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park in south London on Oct 31. (AFP)
Manchester United’s Dutch midfielder Daley Bling (right), vies with Crystal Palace’s Ivorian-born English striker Wilfried Zaha during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park in south London on Oct 31. (AFP)

SWANSEA, United Kingdom, Oct 31, (AFP): Arsenal remain hot on the heels of Premier League leaders Manchester City thanks to a 3-0 victory over Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. A first half goal from Olivier Giroud and second half efforts from Laurent Koscielny and Joel Campbell kept the second-placed Gunners level on points with City.

Although Swansea had their moments, it was pretty much plain sailing for Arsene Wenger’s side as they got back on track following their shock League Cup loss at second tier Sheffield Wednesday in midweek. Wenger made seven changes to the side beaten at Hillsborough, including a first Premier League start for Costa Rica forward Campbell. Having waited patiently for his chance, Campbell found himself in the thick of things early on as Arsenal quickly took control.

A far post cross, in the seventh minute, was only half cleared by Swansea leaving Nacho Monreal with a genuine chance to score. Unfortunately, Monreal’s shot was weak and wide of goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski’s far post. The Gunners had to ride their luck minutes later when Jonjo Shelvey threaded a delightful ball into the path of Bafetimbi Gomis, who to the surprise of the Arsenal back four, found himself with only Petr Cech to beat.

But Gomis took too long in choosing an option and allowed Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin to clear the danger. Gomis, keen to make up for his earlier blunder, headed into the arms of Cech in the 21st minute and five minutes later Giroud should have done better when Santi Cazorla released him inside the Swansea area. Giroud got a good connection, but the ball sailed high and wide of the target.

Shortly before half time, and having once again found themselves in a position of promise, Arsenal missed another golden opportunity. This time it was Campbell who fluffed his lines from the edge of the penalty area. Arsenal’s frustration finally gave way to elation when they broke the deadlock four minutes into the second half. Mesut Ozil whipped in a corner from the left and Giroud, who lost marker Ashley Williams with a degree of ease, headed firmly home. Swansea’s response was immediate.

Gylfi Sigurdsson brought out the best in Cech, and then from 20 yards and from the ensuing corner, Cech had to stretch to clear a deflected header from Federico Fernandes. Yet Arsenal regained their composure and made the game safe with two goals in the final quarter, albeit in somewhat controversial circumstances. A deflected cross-shot from Bellerin should have been claimed by Fabianski at his near post.

However, the Pole flapped at the ball, lost his balance and gifted Koscielny the most simple of tap ins. Swansea boss Garry Monk was clearly dissatisfied with referee Kevin Friend who he felt should have awarded a free kick. Five minutes later, the game was over when Ozil crossed from the left for Campbell to control and beat Fabianski. It was a special moment for Campbell after four years without an Arsenal goal. Swansea huffed and puffed in the final 15 minutes but barely created a chance of note as Arsenal kept the pressure on City.

Palace 0, United 0

In London, Manchester United’s problems in front of goal continued as Louis van Gaal’s side failed to score for a third successive game in a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace. The stalemate left United in fourth place, four points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City. Their lacklustre performance and that of striker Wayne Rooney, who again struggled to make his mark on the game, will do nothing to silence the criticism of United’s cautious approach this season.

And had Palace, who now sit in eighth position, made more of the opportunities that came their way, United manager Van Gaal would have had much more difficult questions to answer. The ongoing debate about United’s playing style reached new levels in the wake of the midweek League Cup exit to Championship side Middlesbrough. It wasn’t just that United were beaten on penalties by a side from the second tier, it was the manner of their exit after a drab scoreless draw that prompted the inquest.

Paul Scholes voiced his opinion, with the former United player complaining of a lack of risk and creativity and suggesting he would not like to play in the current side. Van Gaal brushed off Scholes’ comments, insisting his team was entertaining and pointing to the fact the club was seven points better off than after 10 games last season as evidence of the progress being made. Certainly, Van Gaal’s side have become more efficient, although the manager made it clear before this game he would like to see his strikers become more ruthless in front of goal.

But there was little evidence of the entertainment the Dutchman claims they provide during a first half when the visitors were fortunate to stay on level terms. Palace came into the game on the back of successive league defeats and a painful 5-1 loss at Manchester City in the League Cup on Wednesday. And their start suggested they were keen to return to the thrilling form of early season.

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