Arsenal vs Swansea match report: Theo Walcott shines as 10-man Gunners scrape past Bob Bradley's men

Arsenal 3 Swansea City 2: The Swans had won here on their previous two visits and had not lost away to Arsenal in over five years

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The Independent Football

This could have been the most one-sided game of Arsenal’s season but ended up one of the nerviest. This was looking like an exhibition of Arsenal’s skill but became an examination of their mentality, one that they seriously threatened to fail. And yet at the end of it, they emerged exhausted 3-2 winners over Swansea City, second in the Premier League table to Manchester City only by goal difference.

Arsenal’s players celebrated with weary relief having had to work far harder in the final stages than they could ever have expected. It did not help that there were only ten of them, Granit Xhaka having been sent off for a cynical hack on Modou Barrow with 20 minutes left. That was just after Borja Baston had scored Swansea City’s second, setting up a siege on the Arsenal goal that felt utterly implausible when Arsenal were showboating at 3-1.

There were moments just before Arsenal threatened to collapse when this looked like a new peak for them in terms of the quality of their fast attacking football. It was their first home league game since the famous 2-0 defeat of Chelsea, three weeks ago, and some of their play was just as good. Theo Walcott scored twice and could easily have had four or five. Mesut Ozil scored a left-footed volley that was as good as anything Robin van Persie did here before he left for Manchester United. It was, at least while Arsenal still had 11 players, a perfect attacking performance.

What has been so impressive about Arsenal this season has been their speed and fluidity in possession. They have stepped up a gear since last season, with Alexis Sanchez perfecting the number nine role, pulling opposition defences wherever he wants. From the very start Arsenal were toying with Swansea, and every time they went forward they found an opening. Bob Bradley wanted his team as well drilled as possible but he could not make them that solid that quickly.

It was no surprise when Arsenal took the lead, and while it owed to a Swansea mistake, that came after a brilliant move. Walcott found Alexis who chipped a brilliant ball round the corner to Hector Bellerin, ferocious down the right for Arsenal. He headed the ball into the box, Jordi Amat tried to control it and Walcott forced himself into the situation, poking past Lukasz Fabianski at the near post.

Soon enough it was 2-0, Walcott converting from close range after Jack Cork failed to clear a corner. The move that won that corner, though, was delightful: Walcott chipping over to Ozil, who found Bellerin, whose shot was saved by Fabianski. The thread of Bellerin, tearing down the right, outside the equally-quick Walcott, is one to terrify every left-back in the country.

Bob Bradley barks orders from the technical area (Getty)

But Arsenal gifted Swansea a goal just before the break, Granit Xhaka supplying Gylfi Sigurdsson with the ball, but when Arsenal restarted they were in the same mood. Ozil brilliantly volleyed in Sanchez’s cross from the right, and it was at that point, at 3-1, when it looked as if Arsenal could score as many goals as they wanted.

That complacency seemed to filter through to the players, though, and Swansea sensed an opening. They had struggled to hold off Arsenal in the first half but they always had a threat in Modou Barrow, their outstanding performer, who gave Nacho Monreal the hardest game he has had all season. Barrow continued to drive down the right and set up Swansea’s second, pulling the ball back for Borja Baston to convert.

The next time Barrow burst down that side Xhaka decided to intervene, tripping him from behind near enough to the half-way line. It was as cynical a foul as will be committed all season. It would normally have been a yellow card but John Moss decided to send Xhaka off, and there could be few complaints.

Swansea smelled their moment and started to run at an Arsenal team who had briefly lost all composure. Barrow nearly made it 3-3 from a Kyle Naughton cross, and Arsenal were forced to camp back in their box, digging in in their 4-4-1 formation, playing on the break. The last 15 minutes were a hectic back and forth, as Petr Cech had to saved from Leroy Fer and Federico Fernandez headers. At the other end, Walcott should have completed his hat-trick but hit the post on 84 minutes and the bar on 94.

With Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Sanchez and Ozil, Arsenal had enough athleticism and diligence to get them through the final stages of the game. It should not have come to this, given how Arsenal were playing earlier on, but it did. And yet Arsenal, despite themselves, escaped with all three points. Maybe there is something different about them this year.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Cazorla; Walcott, Ozil (Gibbs, 82), Iwobi (Coquelin, 68); Sanchez (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 82).

Substitutes not used: Ospina, Gabriel Perez, Elneny.

Swansea (4-4-1-1): Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Amat, Taylor; Barrow (Rangel, 83), Britton (Borja, 60), Cork (Ki, 71), Routledge; Fer; Sigurdsson.

Substitutes not used: Van der Hoorn, Nordfeldt, Kingsley, Fulton.

Referee: J Moss (West Yorkshire)