Arsenal 1 Swansea City 0: Solid Swansea breached at death
SWANSEA City’s battle to make history under Michael Laudrup will be fought on only two fronts from now after they were knocked out of the FA Cup at Arsenal last night.
Swansea put in yet another creditable shift against the stars of the Emirates but could not grumble when Jack Wilshere’s goal settled the tie four minutes from time.
Extra time was looming up until that point thanks to a stubborn defensive display from the visitors — and some miserable finishing from the hosts.
But Arsenal were well worth Wilshere’s winner, for Laudrup’s side rarely looked like triumphing in this demanding third-round replay.
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And so their interest in this cup is over — but Swansea have other priorities in Laudrup’s maiden campaign at the helm.
The significance of this game to the two sides was reflected when the team sheets were handed in.
Arsenal were close to full strength, which was not surprising given that they are in need of a trophy and, unless they win the Champions League, were not going to get one anywhere else this season.
For Swansea, by contrast, the FA Cup has become something of a sideshow given their fine league form — a first top-half finish in the Premier League is a strong possibility — and their progress to the brink of a first ever major final in the Capital One Cup.
And that meant Laudrup made six changes to the side which began last weekend at Everton, with regulars Angel Rangel, Ben Davies, Ashley Williams, Pablo Hernandez and Michu all left out of the starting XI.
Yet Swansea have shown on more than one occasion in recent weeks that even with a reshuffled line-up, they can compete at the highest level.
And they did so again here.
Michu’s absence meant Danny Graham led the line, and it was the Swansea striker who showed up first.
Picked out by Kemy Agustien’s sliding pass, Graham sliced across his shot and the ball flew into the advertising hoardings.
After that early sighter it was Arsenal who were asking most of the questions, boxing Swansea in as Laudrup’s men struggled to keep hold of possession.
Theo Walcott’s pace, Santi Cazorla’s clever passing and Wilshere’s nimble feet meant there was plenty for Chico Flores and company to think about.
Walcott put the afterburners on to skate round Dwight Tiendalli after only six minutes, but his cross was nodded harmlessly over the top by Olivier Giroud.
Within a minute Swansea had given the ball back to Arsenal, and once more Walcott fed Giroud.
This time the French international sliced his shot wide.
Wilshere has been impressive for Arsenal since his return from injury, and he was influential once more.
After one clever run he fed Abou Diaby, whose goalbound shot was well blocked by Kyle Bartley, and another Wilshere surge teed up Walcott.
This time Tiendalli got his body in the way to keep the scores level.
Arsenal kept pressing, Thomas Vermaelen’s free-kick deflecting over off Swansea skipper Leon Britton before Kieran Gibbs, scorer of a spectacular volley at the Liberty last week, lashed another into Michel Vorm’s arms.
Swansea’s threat was intermittent, with Graham firing off target from distance for a second time after Jonathan de Guzman had robbed Diaby in midfield.
Yet for all Arsenal’s territory, it was Swansea who came closest to a first-half breakthrough when de Guzman’s 25th-minute free-kick was not properly cleared.
When Wayne Routledge whipped a sweet ball into the box, Bartley rose highest to head beyond Wojciech Szczesny — and against the crossbar.
The ex-Arsenal man held his head in hands, understandably so given that he also hit the woodwork in the original tie.
Still, at least his defensive duties were going well, Swansea turning round at 0-0 after a half-cleared corner ended with Vorm saving well from Vermaelen just before the interval.
That was Swansea’s biggest scare of the first period, and there was another near-miss straight after the restart when Bartley’s loose ball allowed Diaby to free Walcott.
The England flyer raced in behind Flores, thinking about going down after a hint of contact and then staying on his feet.
When his shot beat Vorm but rolled wide of the post, Walcott wanted a penalty — but Swansea were off the hook.
There was more defending for Laudrup’s rearguard to do. Plenty more.
Walcott’s set-pieces continued to cause concern, Giroud heading just wide from one flag-kick before Wilshere’s deflected shot earned Arsenal another.
This time Swansea could not clear, the ball eventually falling to Wilshere. England’s great midfield hope turned Bartley but saw his shot spectacularly saved by Vorm.
When Walcott met the rebound with a volley, Graham was on the line to clear with his chest.
And so to another corner, and this time Giroud’s header was heading for the corner of the net until Britton, not for the first time this season, hacked the ball off the line.
Swansea were wobbling, and Arsenal kept on coming at them.
Giroud turned Flores on the edge of the D but shot too close to Vorm, then Walcott cut inside the Spanish central defender on a rare Arsenal counter-attack.
Walcott tried a Thierry Henry-style curler, but his effort drifted beyond the far post.
Vorm was soon in the action again, pushing out Wilshere’s drive at the near post before gathering yet another effort from Giroud.
At the other end Szczesny’s first save of the night came on 80 minutes, the Arsenal stopper pushing substitute Ki Sung-Yueng’s long-ranger behind for a corner.
After Flores headed the resulting flag-kick into the side netting, Swansea were back defending.
Bacary Sagna’s cross missed everyone and hit the far post, bouncing kindly to Vorm.
Next the Dutch international kicked away Walcott’s drive, then Giroud’s effort was blocked on the line by his own team-mate.
Arsene Wenger was growing ever more frustrated on the touchline, but Arsenal finally found a way past Vorm four minutes from the end.
Cazorla fed Giroud, whose cushioned lay-off sat up for Wilshere to smack the ball home from 20 yards.
“1-0 to the Arsenal” sang the locals, and Swansea could hardly complain.