Swansea stun Arsenal as Bafetimbi Gomis' header clinches victory
LONDON -- Three points on Swansea's 1-0 win Monday vs. Arsenal in the Premier League.
1. Arsenal stunned by Swansea again
Though the Premier League title ship has long since sailed, here was a night to reinforce why Arsenal are not within reach of champions Chelsea. In the eyes of their manager, this was a must-win game, and Arsenal lost.
Arsene Wenger considers second place an extremely valuable target, yet losing for the second time this season to Swansea means Arsenal could struggle to surpass Manchester City. Third, which would be progress from last season, might now have to be accepted.
Just as in November in South Wales, when Swansea won 2-1, it was a combination of Jefferson Montero's cross and Bafetimbi Gomis' header that won the day. David Ospina in Arsenal's goal claimed he had kept the ball out, but video technology revealed an 85th minute winner.
Arsenal's season can still end in silverware with the FA Cup, though they will have to improve on this showing, which saw Swansea's energy and positioning cut off the passing triangles that have made the Gunners so potent in their recent run of 10 wins in 11 games in all competitions.
Swansea were in no way as obliging an opponent to Arsenal as QPR was to Manchester City on Sunday. They kept a low block on the edge of their area, and mounted attacks on the counter.
There were chances for the hosts but it was another night that assisted the dissenters in the great Olivier Giroud debate, as the Frenchman, now five games without a goal, began his evening by heading over the bar, and snatched at a couple of other opportunities.
Giroud got his best chance early in second half, laid on for him by Mesut Ozil, but the shot was not strong enough to beat Lukasz Fabianski, who made a string of fine saves to keep a clean sheet on his return to Arsenal. It was a brilliant display that showed up Wenger's decision to allow him to move on as a free agent last summer.
Giroud left the field to be replaced by Theo Walcott, whose own first effort was a weak stab at a ball that had pinballed around the six-yard box. By then, home spirits were flagging as Arsenal pushed for a goal that would not come. Instead, Gomis struck, and third place looks most likely for the Gunners.
2. Monk's men dig in
Swansea boss Garry Monk has strong credentials for the end-of-season awards. At 36, he is the youngest manager in the Premier League, and his team's performances have shamed many others of greater experience and bigger budgets. Swansea have done doubles over both Arsenal and Manchester United this season.
Monk's team still have the capability of reaching next season's Europa League. Should Arsenal win the FA Cup, then seventh would be enough to qualify, though Monk has expressed reservations about the effect that competition may have on his squad.
That said, Swansea played with noticeable purpose at the Emirates. Ashley Williams and Federico Fernandez made early tackles to suggest that this was not being treated as a close-season testimonial. Victory was very much in the gritty image the Swans manager cultivates.
Swansea had to struggle on without a proper striker, with Gomis beginning on the bench after a hamstring injury. Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson was fielded as a centre-forward, with Jonjo Shelvey supporting.
A previous highlight of Swansea's season was that November come-from-behind win over Arsenal during a rain-soaked afternoon in which left-winger Montero dealt Calum Chambers an afternoon so painful that the teenager left the field visibly upset.
These days Hector Bellerin fills that position and the Ecuadorian gave an often rigorous test to the Spaniard, whose speed makes him more suited to facing a flier. However, when Montero got clear on a first-half run, Bellerin had to choose foul play to hack down his man.
Montero escaped again on halftime, pinging in a shot that had David Ospina scrabbling but as Arsenal pushed for an elusive goal, he also had to get through his own defensive work to stop the Spaniard's trademark overlaps. In the end, he supplied the winner.
3. Ramsey drives Arsenal on
Wenger was able to name an unchanged lineup for the fifth game in a row after the recovery from a calf injury of Aaron Ramsey, whose frequent injury absences have robbed Arsenal of a player whose energy, class and determination make them a very different proposition. Were he to last the full campaign, without his various muscular problems, it is tempting to consider that the Gunners might have been rather closer to Chelsea's runaway pace.
At times, Ramsey can look like a captain in waiting for the club, a player who leads by his own example and with a more even temperament than Jack Wilshere, who continued his return from injury with a second-half run-out that proved ineffective as a replacement for Francis Coquelin at the base of midfield.
The switch pushed Ramsey back to a deeper midfield position, when it had been his athletic bursts down the flank that had caused Swansea most strife. Meanwhile, Arsenal being caught on the break for the winner raised a question against the decision to remove a defensive midfielder.
While Ozil and Santi Cazorla bubble with creativity, Ramsey is a much more forceful performer and his dynamism complements them when he makes shuttling runs down the flank.
Now in his 25th year, after so much time was lost to injury, he should be approaching his peak. This season was supposed to be one in which he built on the wondrous showing of the first half of 2013-14, which was stopped by a hamstring injury, but after which he made a slow return that climaxed with his winning goal in the FA Cup final.
Even from deep, Ramsey tried to force the issue. As Swansea sat back, he drove on against his Welsh compatriots, testing Fabianski with one long-range shot, and providing the scooped pass from which Alexis Sanchez and then Walcott were denied by a superlative double save from the heroic Fabianski in goal.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.