Arsenal 3 Swansea 2: The final Premier League table is normally a mirror of each club’s wage bill, which is one of the reasons Arsenal are not being tipped by many to win the title this season.
Arsenal are, surprise surprise, the fourth highest payers (about £20m-a-year behind the Manchester clubs and Chelsea) and few pundits are brave enough to predict they will finish any higher than that on the pitch.
Their form and results so far would suggest they have the players and squad to go all the way, as displayed in this victory against a side they had failed to beat at home for four years.
But the nagging doubts among players and supporters alike will not go away until they go the distance for the first time since 2004, and to do that they will have to retain players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
The Chilean striker was largely ineffective, having travelled 15,000 miles and played 180 minutes of international football before this match, but still set up the goal of the match for his German team-mate to seal a deserved victory.
Ozil’s succulent volley finish on his 28th birthday illustrated why he is establishing himself as one of the few genuinely world class players in this division and why manager Arsene Wenger knows he will have to pay top dollar to keep him at the club.
Both players have two years of their current contracts to run and Wenger is wily enough after 20 years at the club to know promises of riches probably exceed trophy potential when trying to build and maintain a strongest possible squad.
Quizzed after the match on Ozil’s future, Wenger’s response was telling. He said: “I don’t think he needs convincing. He wants to stay here. If you have a good bank, call me!
“We keep [negotiations] discreet and in due time we will come out with that. I must say [just now] it’s not my main worry. We want to keep our best players, of course. The more I say that to you, the more he’s in a strong position!”
Wenger believes Ozil & Co. do not need convincing they are part of a squad good enough to win the league, but explained they face strong competition and will need to approach every match with the same rigour as this one to emerge on top.
Swansea, whoever is in charge, always travel to the red half of north London with belief. That newly appointed American Bob Bradley was their fifth manager since 2011 made no difference to their conviction.
A Gylfi Sigurdsson strike gave them hope after trailing to two goals from Theo Walcott. Ozil’s wonder volley after the break could have killed off a lesser side but after Granit Xhaka was sent off for a reckless foul, Spanish striker Borja’s first Swansea goal since his club record signing from Atletico Madrid led to chances to level against and even beat the 10 men.
Icelandic figurehead Sigurdsson explained afterwards how Bradley’s arrival had given a lift to a team second from bottom of the embryonic league table.
He said: “The boys really like the new manager. Training has been good since he came in — really hard and really sharp.
“I think we have improved since he arrived and I think if we keep performing like we did today in the next few games, we are going to start picking up a few wins. Overall we are a bit disappointed, but then we could have conceded a couple more too.”
Walcott, having made it five goals in eight games despite missing a couple of sitters, said the team had overcome a mental hurdle despite being expected to win comfortably.
He said: “When you go down to 10 men and there’s 20 minutes to go, you have to dig deep, and that’s what was really important looking at the other results.
“This is probably the fixture you wouldn’t have wanted after an international break because we’ve always slipped up against them. So on a positive note, we’ve broken that duck.”
Asked if previous results had a bearing on the match, he said: “Do you know what, I’d be telling a lie if I said that it didn’t. I think it did. I think me being one of the players being involved in quite a few of those games, Swansea love to play football as well, they’ve got a new manager as well coming in and that always seems to be the case when we play teams.
“But we all stuck in, showed patience and in time we got the win which was really important.
“We had to be diligent, be patient at times but when we got that third goal I should have got the fourth and killed it off.”
Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mustafi 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Xhaka 4, Cazorla 6; Walcott 8, Ozil 7 (Gibbs 82, 6), Iwobi 6 (Coquelin 68, 6); Sanchez 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82, 7).
Subs not used:
Ospina, Gabriel, Perez, Elneny.
Fabianski 7; Naughton 6, Fernandez 6, Amat 5, Taylor 5; Cork 5 (Ki Sung-yueng 71, 7), Britton 5 (Baston 61, 6), Fer 5; Barrow 7 (Rangel 82, 5), Sigurdsson 6, Routledge 6.
Subs not used:
Nordfeldt, Van der Hoorn, Kingsley, Fulton.
Jon Moss 5
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