Accused of the kind of mistakes that would shame schoolboys, Arsene Wenger’s back-four organised a private screening of the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham and, after a bout of soul-searching, realised where they had been going wrong. The result; successive clean sheets that have laid the foundation for victories at Bayern Munich and Swansea.
The 2-0 win in the Allianz Arena proved to be too little, too late to salvage the club’s Champions League ambitions but that, together with the resolute display at the Liberty Stadium, has restored belief at a time when their challenge to finish in the top four and once again claim a place in the Champions League looked uncertain at best.
“We watch the DVD of every game but after Tottenham, the defenders did it on our own and I think there has been quite an improvement,” said Mertesacker. “We all had the idea to watch it together. We all had the feeling there was something to do so everybody was involved and everyone felt we needed to improve and speak.
“We saw ourselves as a unit on the television and I think it was a good thing to do because sometimes you have a different view on the pitch and you feel different. There was a lot of room for improvement after the Tottenham game and we saw a lot of things on television.
“Sometimes we didn’t choose the right direction and we just lacked a bit of defensive work as a unit. As a unit we have to cover each other. There were a lot of situations where there was no pressure on the ball and the back four was not prepared for any balls between us. To cover each other, that was the most important thing we learned.”
It sounds basic, particularly when coming from a seasoned Germany international but then so many of Arsenal’s flaws this season have been basic.
Wenger’s patience ran out after Spurs with Thomas Vermaelen, the club captain, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was omitted once again after also sitting out the game in Munich and the futures of both will continue to be questioned if they remain sidelined for the rest of the season. Without them, Arsenal negated an admittedly blunt Swansea attack before Nacho Monreal scored his first goal for the club in the 74th minute and Gervinho completed the win in added time with his first Premier League goal since September.
A rejuvenated Gervinho will also come as a bonus to Wenger. “He is sensitive — he needs the support,” said the manager. “He wants to do well, he loves football — when he doesn’t score, of course he is down. Recently I felt he lacked confidence because when he got in front of goal you could see that it was not spontaneous. I hope that goal will give him a lot of confidence.”
SWANSEA: Vorm 6, Rangel 6, Williams 7, Monk 7, Davies 7, Dyer 6 (Moore 76), Britton 7, de Guzman 7, Ki 7 (Routledge 66, 6), Hernandez 8, Michu 5.
Subs not used: Tremmel, Bartley, Lamah, Shechter, Tiendalli.
ARSENAL: Fabianski 6, Jenkinson 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7, Arteta 6, Diaby 5 (Ramsey 71), Walcott 6 (Gibbs 85), CAZORLA 9, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Gervinho 71), Giroud 5.
Subs not used: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Coquelin.
Referee: Jon Moss 7.