Sunday, 15 January 2012

It is never pleasant being attacked by a swan. Ask Arsene Wenger

Up the Swanny: Arsenal beaten 3-2
I was attacked by a swan once, circa 1999. When I invaded his island with my son Kriss on the Misbourne River in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire. His name was King Tut. Hit me with his wing, left a mark like a baseball bat on my back. Still have nightmares, falling face first in the river, nearly unconscious.

And it felt like that watching Arsenal play the Swans yesterday. Hit by a baseball bat. Drowning in mediocrity. De Ja-bloody-vu it was.  A nerve-jangling, devastating 3-2 defeat to follow the appalling reverse against Fulham, the hopeless draw against Wolves. And Manchester United to come to the Emirates next week. Oh, God, no.

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers, the former Chelsea youth boss who struggled in charge at Reading, is loving his life of freedom at the Liberty Stadium. They actually outplayed Arsenal, out-passed them. Afterwards he said: "We have a great belief that we can play and pass. Some of our ball retention today was incredible. It's always going to be a fantastic football game against Arsenal. Strictly come passing! They've been doing it for years, we're only beginning. It's great to win such a game."

Predictably, Arsene Wenger kicked-off his post-match comments insisting "it was never a penalty" and said: "We missed some great chances at 3-2, and at this level we cannot afford that. We made massive mistakes on the third goal. It's difficult to explain. We'd just come back to 2-2 we knew we had what it takes to score the third goal.

"It's a bit down to the fact we shuffled the defence around, some players do not play in that position. But in the last two games we have given away cheap goals.

"They played well, they're a good side. They had a lot of possession in their half. But it's just a side like ours. At 1-0 up and 2-2 we don't want to make mistakes like we did.

"I feel we can still make a strong bid for the top four. But today and at Fulham, we lost the game. And we cannot afford that."

The start was predictable enough,. Robin van Persie, as ever, got the early goal, a personal best 18 for the season. It's going to be a record for the Dutch master. I bite the coffee table, snog the cat... and the security in my fingerprinted estate in Centurion on the Hennops River in South Africa (where there are many, many swans, black and white) was called to investigate the screams.

Then what happens?

The only Welsh side in the Premier League gets one back. The softest of penalties as Aaron Ramsey - yes, a Welshman - touches a home player. Nathan Dyer, superb yesterday, collapsed like the Dying Swan, but without the balletic grace.
Dyer said afterwards: "What a massive confidence boost. We passed it around well, played them at their own game. We've got the same philosophy as they have. It was a great game of football for the neutrals."

On the penalty, he said: "He kicked my foot, I just went over. Look, we're just enjoying playing in the Premier League. Every game, luckily for us we're doing well. We've got a good work ethic."

Scott Sinclair - five from five from the spot this season - tucks away the penalty, Sche... Swech... the Polish keeper can't get to it and it's 1-1. Swansea are holding the ball like Arsenal used to when they had Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere (remember him? Me Neither) and then Van Persie gets another sight of goal... and fails to beat Michel Vorm with a much easier chance than his first.

Dyer flashes a shot in, 40 minutes gone, this time Scze... Schew... the Polish keeper gets to it. But it's only a matter of time. Like the devastating Fulham defeat, Arsenal have the lead but can't hold it. Can't even hold the ball.

Half-time. Level at 1-1. The agony is just beginning. Surely not a defeat against the promoted Swans? Not this weekend when Spurs dropped two points at Wolves and fourth place remains a realistic hope? Lose this and we're four behind Chelsea in the last Champions League spot.

On the Premier League's international programme we watch here on SuperSport in SA, Andy Townsend says he can't see a touch by Ramsey on Dyer. Alan Curbishley says he can. All I can see is Ramsey doing the splits, barely brushing Dyer. The Arsenal man is lucky to escape injury. Dyer is lucky to escape an Oscar.

But it matters not. As we shall see very soon, this Arsenal side is far too fragile. They are not Champions League material, though they have qualified to face AC Milan in the knock-out stages next month. This will be their last European Cup campaign for a while.

After 56 of those agonising minutes, Wojciech Szczesny (yes, that's the Polish keeper, with the J, W, Y and two Zs in all the right places) is beaten again. Nathan, the Dyer Swan, capitalises after yet another stray pass from Andrei Arshavin, the bloke who once said he qualified as a fashion designer at home in St Petersburg.

Go back to the needlework, Meerkat. It's only fair. Your species may scare snakes, but these Swans were entirely impervious to your threat. Off he went, past Wenger, substituted without even an apology to the baying Gooners so desperate for a sniff of a trophy after six lean years.

On the hour mark, the bearded wonder arrives. Thierry Henry. Scorer of the only goal on his comeback debut on loan from the New York Red Bulls. Will this be a repeat of the 2-1 defeat at Fulham or the 1-0 FA Cup win over Leeds?

It’s going to be neither. First Theo Walcott levels, a brilliant finish for once from the man we all hoped for so much from. But within 45 seconds, David Graham has the Swans back in front. Per Mertesacker fails to see the run. Inexplicably, he stops. Szczesny gets his angles all wrong.  That's the 25th goal conceded away from home for a ramshackle team of supposed title contenders.

On Twitter, the world explodes. Virtual roars, oaths and despair. Incredible. Dramatic. Conceding in seconds. Never seen anything like it.

Oh yes we have. Remember the 4-0 lead against Newcastle that became a 4-4 draw? Remember Fulham a couple of weeks ago? That’s when we saw it. Arsenal fans are used to it. We can’t defend a lead. Not even four goals.

I can see King Tut coming down the river at me, framed by weeping willows. Swans are dangerous. Especially on their own territory. I said it at half-time, it was back to haunt us all, we Gooners.

Mertesacker misses a chance to level from a corner, then he is removed by Wenger, who is going for broke. Apparently the German has an illness. But he appears to have been off-colour since January when he made his surprising arrival in North London. Sick as a bloody parrot he's been.

I've seen better centre-backs in South Africa... try Erick "Tower" Mathoho at Bloemfontein Celtic, Arsene. Or perhaps you could approach rivals Spurs and ask if you could have Bongani Khumalo, the cool Bafana Bafana centrehalf, currently not being used on loan by Reading.

As a Ramsey header thumps in to Vorm's chest, we have seven minutes left. Manchester United to come next weekend, and Arsenal are 3-2 down to Swansea, who have been creating chances at the other end. Appalling.

Tomas Rosicky has two late chances, Koscielny has another, Vorm repels them comfortably. Van Persie wriggles and writhes in injury time, but nothing can save them. For the sixth time this season, the travelling Goonners fall silent.

Swans? They're a bloody nightmare.

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