Swansea's Michael Laudrup appears to have out-Wengered Wenger with victory over Arsenal
Arsenal 0 Swansea City 2
Michael Laudrup, the Swansea manager, was asked after Saturday's victory at the Emirates Stadium whether his team had "out-Arsenaled" Arsenal. He downplayed the suggestion, even though his team had been superior in all the departments in which the Gunners usually excel, taking them on at their own passing game rather than going down the proven route of parking the bus. But perhaps the question should have been: has he out-Wengered Arsène Wenger?
When Wenger arrived in Britain in 1996, he brought an unrivalled knowledge of foreign players, especially French ones such as Patrick Vieira, and added their qualities to those he found at Highbury. Laudrup has done something similar in South Wales, enhancing the best of the virtues instilled in Swansea by Brendan Rodgers with clever signings such as Michu, the £2m gem unearthed from the Spanish game that he knows well.
Michu's two late goals against Arsenal made him joint top-scorer in the Premier League this season with 10, level with Luis Suarez and a certain Robin van Persie, and in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's game, Wenger's failure to discover a Michu seems to have compounded his inability to hold on to Van Persie in the eyes of those who loudly expressed their dissatisfaction.
Some of them might be inclined to see Swansea's victory as an impressive audition by Laudrup for Wenger's job when the Frenchman decides to vacate it or the board makes a change, but caution should be exercised. For instance, it does not seem too many weeks ago that Santi Cazorla was at least joint-favourite with Michu in the minds of the pundits as bargain signing of the season.
It has helped Michu to be an unknown quantity, part of the fresh twist that Laudrup's arrival in summer for his first taste of English football has given a Swansea team that might otherwise have succumbed to second-season syndrome. In contrast, every rival knows what to expect from a Wenger team after 16 years, and even a player of Cazorla's talent finds it hard to shine in games such as Saturday's, when so many team-mates have off-days at once.
A year ago this morning, Arsenal were the same number of points (five) behind third place in the Premier League as they are today. Last season they caught up, and Wenger counselled against an instant verdict on a team that has lost only one of its last seven games and has reached the Champions League knockout stages once again.
"We lost a game and even though it is a massive disappointment, I do not want to go straight away to general conclusions," he said. "You can see from the results that it is difficult for everybody at the moment – all the teams, even those who have invested a lot of money. You have to keep the focus and the desire and the ambition and turn it round. That's how it works."
Wenger believed that his team were tired, having played two more games than Swansea in November, both in the Champions League, while their midweek 1-1 draw at Everton was harder work than Swansea's 3-1 stroll at home to West Bromwich Albion. But what worries fans – even the ones who did not jeer at the end – is the collapse in Arsenal's form at home, where even some of their wins have been unconvincing.
"It's difficult to put a finger on it because we won 5-2 against Tottenham," Wenger said. "You look at the moment at this uncertainty amongst the fans, where there is not complete confidence that we will win games. Has it an influence on our performance? I don't know. I believe that at the moment we cannot be satisfied with the quality of our game. That is more important than the psychological side."
And just as Wenger warned against over-reaction to a defeat, so Laudrup preached caution against reading too much into victory or expecting Swansea, who are unbeaten in seven games, to keep pushing up the table. "When I arrived everybody, but not me, talked about relegation, that fourth from the bottom would be great," he said. "Now the fans can dream and I think they are doing it both in the league and we have a [Capital One Cup] quarter-final coming up in ten days. That is part of what it is to be a fan. The rest of us are working daily – players, coaches, managers – to be a bit better and take one game at a time."
Arsenal: SZCZESNY 7/10, JENKINSON 5, MERTESACKER 4, VERMAELEN 8, GIBBS 6, WALCOTT 3, WILSHERE 5, CAZORLA 6, ARTETA 5, PODOLSKI 4, GERVINHO 4
Swansea: TREMMEL 6, DAVIES 7, CHICO 7, WILLIAMS 7, RANGEL 8, KI 8, BRITTON 7, DE GUZMAN 7, MICHU 9, DYER 7, SCHECHTER 6
Goals: Swansea City Michu 88, 90.
Subs: Ars Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Gervinho, 67), Giroud 5 (Podolski, 67), Rosicky (Wilshere, 79). Swan Moore 8 (Schechter, 67), Tiendalli (De Guzman, 74). Bookings: Ars Vermaelen.
Man of the match Michu. Match rating 6/10. Poss: Ars 44%. Swan 56%. Att on target: Ars 8. Swan 10.
Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham). Att 60,098.
Champions League: Eye on the opposition
Olympiakos warmed up for Tuesday's Group B dead-rubber visit of Arsenal with a 2-1 win over Platanias to maintain their unbeaten record and lead at the top of the Greek Super League. Djamel Abdoun and Vassilis Torossidis put the hosts in front before a Chigozie Udoji consolation. Olympiakos are already assured of third place in the group and a Europa League spot.
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