Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang touched down in London a little prematurely in terms of his transfer but not soon enough from Arsenal’s point of view. How they could have done with their soon-to-be club-record signing on a night when Arsenal’s miserable away form continued as Swansea, capitalising on a calamitous mistake from Petr Cech, took another remarkable step towards survival.
Leading through Nacho Monreal’s fourth goal of the season, Arsenal conceded 60 seconds later after Sam Clucas equalised and then handed Swansea the lead courtesy of Cech’s blunder. It was an awful moment for the Arsenal goalkeeper, who wildly miskicked Shkodran Mustafi’s backpass, leaving Jordan Ayew with a simple tap-in for his seventh goal of the season. Clucas, converting from close range, added a late third.
Arsenal have failed to win an away game in 2018 and registered only three victories on their travels from 13 Premier League games. As for Swansea, this was further evidence of the extraordinary turnaround under Carlos Carvalhal, who has lost only once in his eight games in charge and somehow lifted Swansea out of the bottom three before the transfer window closes.
Mindful of the way that Swansea nullified Liverpool in their previous league game, Arsène Wenger had talked beforehand about the need for Arsenal to produce “an absolute total offensive performance”. It was the home team, however, who looked much more threatening in the early stages, despite being set up in a 5-4-1 formation that suggested caution.
Arsenal were badly exposed defensively three times in the opening 15 minutes as Swansea started brightly on a sodden pitch. Ayew’s shot was deflected over by Mustafi, after the Arsenal centre-back had been initially caught out by a straightforward pass over the top from Kyle Naughton, and 60 seconds later Swansea got in behind their opponents again when Nathan Dyer played a lovely one-two on the right. Dyer’s low cross implored Alfie Mawson to convert at the far post but Aaron Ramsey, inside his six-yard box, blocked superbly.
Missing the influence of Jack Wilshere, who was ruled out through illness, Arsenal were slow to settle on an evening when Wenger made the curious decision to include Olivier Giroud among his substitutes, despite the fact that the Frenchman has agreed in principle to join Chelsea. Mkhitaryan also had to be content with a place on the bench as Wenger deployed Mesut Özil, Ramsey and Alex Iwobi behind Alexandre Lacazette.
It was half an hour before Arsenal fashioned a chance of note, when Iwobi broke free on the edge of the area to drill a left-footed shot that Lukasz Fabianski turned behind, yet that rare attack proved to be a warning because three minutes later Wenger’s side took the lead. Özil was the architect, the German given far too much time and space to look up and deliver a perfectly-weighted inswinging cross from the right that picked out the run of Monreal, who ghosted in behind a static Swansea defence to finish with minimal fuss.
Swansea’s response was instant and from Arsenal’s point of view it was a desperately poor goal to concede. Özil was guilty of losing possession too easily to Martin Olsson deep inside his own half and questions will also be asked about Granit Xhaka’s failure to track Clucas’s run as the midfielder burst onto Mawson’s threaded pass. Clucas made the next bit look remarkably easy as he took a touch to take the ball away from Laurent Koscielny before steering a fine left-footed shot inside Cech’s near post.
It was not the first time that Clucas caused Arsenal problem’s with his movement. The former Hull City player ran onto Leroy Fer’s pass in the 15th minute and was bearing down on goal when Mohamed Elneny got back to make a brilliantly-timed sliding tackle. Arsenal were caught out like that on a few occasions, including shortly before the interval, when Fer set off on a driving run from deep and, after a couple of stepovers, ended up clean through. Yet by the time he reached the edge of the area, the Dutchman seemed to run out of energy and shot tamely at Cech.
Playing with much more urgency and conviction, Arsenal looked a different team at the start of the second period and pinned Swansea back to such an extent that the visitors were almost camped in their half for 15 minutes.
But although Özil squeezed a low shot through a crowd of bodies, forcing Fabianski into a save, Arsenal were struggling to break Swansea down and it was no real surprise when Wenger replaced Elneny with Mkhitaryan.
Then came Cech’s calamitous error. Mustafi, under pressure from Dyer, passed back to the Arsenal goalkeeper, who horribly miscued, gifting the ball to Ayew a little more than six yards out. The striker calmly slotted the ball into the empty net and Swansea had turned the game on its head.
Dyer could have made it 3-1 in the 71st minute but screwed his left-footed shot, from a slight angle, the wrong side of the near post. Clucas was not so forgiving.