AYEW MISS PILES THE PRESSURE ON SWANS
SOMETIMES, small moments can sum up the bigger picture.
Here at the Emirates, there was a moment where it looked as though Swansea City were ready to add to their top-flight scrapbook of shocks and scalps.
Already 1-0 up with half-time moments away, Jordan Ayew had the chance to tee up a second and put Swansea on course to record a fourth win at the Emirates. To put that in context, only Arsenal themselves have achieved more Premier League victories at the ground.
Instead, Ayew tried to take the chance himself rather than set up the open and excellent Tammy Abraham. Petr Cech saved. Arsenal, spared, scored twice within 20 minutes of the second-half.
The miss proved to be a defining moment – and now you can’t shake the feeling that Swansea are now approaching a defining moment in their season.
Even with their record here, noone really expected anything different. The away win that seemed a possibility after Sam Clucas’ 22nd-minute opener would not have been on many betting slips.
But it doesn’t change the fact that, with eight points from the first 10 games, Swansea now have to deliver when there is opportunity. If being edged out against Arsenal is disappointing, erring in games deemed to be ‘winnable’ – if there is such a thing in the Premier League – would be devastatingly defining for the winter months ahead. Swansea’s next three fixtures are Brighton, Burnley and Bournemouth, two of which are at home.
Paul Clement will be all too aware. Whether fair or not, the narrative of pressure will get louder and noisier if Swansea are unable to step up and meet the forthcoming challenge head-on.
There were signs that they are quite capable of doing so. For 45 minutes you couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Swansea went about their task, their tenacity, discipline and eagerness to counter quickly. Arsenal were made to feel anxious in a way that their North London rivals were not. This was not defending by parking the bus at Wembley as it was in the 0-0 against Spurs a few weeks back. This wasn’t a drilled attempt to cling on, but an effective set-up to get at Arsenal.
There were reasons to be impressed. Clement had done his homework, Tom Carroll had stepped up from recent performances, while Ki Sung-Yueng showed a bit of fire in his belly that makes his presence in the midfield a vital one.
Clucas, too, offered plenty in his deputising role as wing-back, finally unwrapping the dynamism he showed at Hull and is capable of bringing this side, delightfully finishing when played through by Abraham.
The Chelsea striker was another who impressed, testing Troy Deeney’s ‘Cojones’ theory about Arsenal’s defenders, refusing to give them a moment’s piece and doing it with plenty of skill and intelligence as well as effort.
But, for all that, that single moment as Ayew failed to hand Abraham the chance to make it 2-0 defined where Swansea are right now and why a defining period awaits: full of endeavour, lacking in enough quality when it counts.
It is not to blame Ayew, but rather to sum up Swansea’s situation. The effort continued, but the mistakefree display could not. Alfie Mawson continued his struggles, not dealing well enough with some scrappy Arsenal play in the box before the ball fell to Sead Kolasinac, who lashed home.
Kyle Naughton offered little apart from an opportunity for Arsenal to expose his flank, Leory Fer’s ability to infuriate with his inconsistency not helping matters down that side.
He can aid the side – as he did with his involvement to give Clucas and Abraham the chance to retake the lead only for the striker to be denied by the offside flag – but he can also hurt it with poor decision-making on the ball. You can say the same about Naughton, Ayew and others.
Aaron Ramsey had helped Arsenal slightly change their ploy and up their tempo after the break to take advantage of the weak spots in Swansea. He deservedly fired the hosts in front after 58 minutes.
Yet the Wales playmaker would have acknowledged that Swansea, in the main, used the ball well, were organised and were only broken when they dropped their concentration for a small period.
The next challenge is different, though. Swansea have shown before under Clement they are capable of stopping, scaring and sometimes shocking the bigger opponents.
At home, against sides in Swansea’s ‘mini-league’, the onus is different. The pressure will be on Swansea to be on the front foot, to deal with the expectation. They should take confidence from this that they are able to.
How they deal with it will define the season ahead.
Tammy Abraham shows his frustration after Jordan Ayew’s miss