It nearly took all night but Arsenal finally dispatched Swansea yesterday, beating them 1-0 in the 3rd round replay of the FA Cup, setting up a 4th round matchup against Brighton on the 26th January. The man responsible for Arsenal's victory is the young Englishman Jack Wilshere, whose drive and effort shone throughout the entire match and was finally rewarded in the 86th minute with a blistering shot that Swansea keeper Michel Vorm had no chance of stopping.
The Gunners really should have held on to their 2-1 lead at Swansea on the 6th January but it wasn't to be, as a Danny Graham goal in the final minutes tied the game and forced last night's unwanted replay. Arsene Wenger knows the squad is tired enough as it is and an FA Cup replay was the last thing he would have wanted during this busy fixture period. However I'm sure he was grateful that the team were at least still in the competition and had another chance to progress. That being said, last night's game was possibly the most important of this season to date; a loss would have seen us exit the FA Cup and almost certainly put to bed any thoughts of this Gunners side winning any silverware this season (Champions League excluded... but come on...)
I felt the manager picked probably the strongest side he could field at the moment but, as we have seen far too often recently, the team never really got going in the first half. For much of the opening 45 minutes Swansea kept control of the possession and were unlucky not to take the lead from a header hitting the bar, courtesy of ex-Arsenal man Kyle Bartley. At least that seemed to wake Arsenal up a bit as they started to play a lot better towards the end of the first half. In fact I'm sure the players were probably disappointed to hear the half time whistle, as the home side were beginning to finally take hold of the game.
Thankfully Arsenal carried that momentum and energy into the second half and really put this Swansea City team to the sword. The Gunners had chance after chance and it started to look like we'd never score and the game would go into extra-time. Twice Arsenal had the ball cleared off the Swansea goal-line and the pressure kept mounting, with Vorm making save after save. Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud all had efforts blocked by the Dutch keeper. Swansea looked quite content to soak up the pressure and hold on for extra-time, maybe fancying their chances at a penalty shoot-out.
But it wasn't to be. With less than 5 minutes to go and the home crowd growing more frustrated and anxious as the seconds ticked by, they were rewarded with as good a goal as you are likely to see. Kieran Gibbs drove the ball into Swansea's half and played it to Santi Cazorla, whose expert pass found the feet of Giroud just outside the penalty area. The French striker played a cute first-time ball off the outside of his boot into the path of Wilshere, who smashed it on the half-volley and straight into the back of the net. It was a real peach of a goal, a shot that flashed past Vorm so quickly it could have burst through the goalkeeper's net. Arsenal's pressure was finally rewarded and there were no repeats of Swansea's late heroics in the first game on the 6th January. This time Arsenal held on for the clean sheet and the win, guaranteeing us a trip to Brighton in the 4th round.
Arsenal owe this win to just one man in particular, the heart of our midfield, Jack Wilshere. For me, he played his finest game in an Arsenal shirt since that memorable night against Barcelona a couple of years ago. He was everywhere last night, literally dragging this jaded and tired Arsenal side into attacking Swansea's stubborn defence. The Englishman wouldn't give in and his zig-zagging runs at the opposition were a sight to behold; this small bulldog terrier-like player fending off defenders as he consistently tried to create goal scoring chances for his team-mates. Finally he'd had enough of their wastefulness and took it upon himself to break the deadlock. His goal would be the envy of most strikers in the Premier League, a really fine hit. Last night definitely proved young Jack is worthy of wearing that number 10 shirt. It is obvious for all to see the immense pride he has in possessing the iconic number and he has certainly earned it.
Let's hope there are many more Wilshere goals to come in Arsenal's future. I'm a big fan of that celebration he does, the knee slider with the badge-thump. I feel that for once we have a player who really means it when he says he loves the club. Long may that continue, I think he'd make a fine captain one day.
Thanks for reading.