Mkhitaryan endures miserable debut as Arsenal slump at Swansea
SWANSEA, Wales -- Three thoughts on Swansea's 3-1 win vs. Arsenal in the Premier League.
1. Swansea comeback stuns Arsenal
Welcome to Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. You would feel sorry for the new arrival if this was -- in any way -- a surprise, but The Armenian international surely knew what he was joining: A side, whose 3-1 defeat to the team at the bottom of the Premier League, could not be described as a shock.
Sam Clucas scored twice and Jordan Ayew added the other when taking advantage of a comical error by Petr Cech. As the hosts roared to victory, it seemed long ago that Nacho Monreal gave the away side a lead in the first half. From there it was textbook Arsenal, with plenty of pleasant football but nothing to show for it.
It has been like this for so long that such a result won't change anything. Or, at least, while Arsene Wenger is still in charge. The Liberty Stadium bounced at the end as their team celebrated a win that followed victory in their last league games vs. Liverpool, while the Arsenal fans slunk home as they have done many times before.
There was a slight surprise on the Arsenal teamsheet, not so much on the pitch but the bench, where new signing Mkhitaryan sat beside Olivier Giroud, despite the French striker's apparently impending move to Chelsea.
In the early stages, Swansea looked like a team with more conviction, as manager Carlos Carvalhal hopped around on the touchline. Arsenal played some decent enough combinations, but didn't create a huge amount.
Until they took the lead, that is. Mesut Ozil curled a wonderful ball over the Swansea defence and arriving at the back post was goal machine himself Nacho Monreal, who forced the ball home for his second goal in three games (three in three if you count the pinball effort that he started against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semifinal).
But the lead didn't even last a minute as Alfie Mawson, of all players, was permitted to pick out the run of Clucas, who strode unhindered into the box and slammed a confident finish past Cech.
A moment toward the end of the half seemed to sum things up for Arsenal; Aaron Ramsey was absent-mindedly dispossessed by Leroy Fer, who was then allowed to stroll through and take a shot from inside the penalty area. It was only to Arsenal's good fortune that the effort turned out to be as limp as Ramsey's attempts to keep the ball.
Arsenal had the majority of the ball after the break, but all the possession in the world is no use once you make a calamitous error. Cech had the excuse of a very wet surface, but his air kick from a routine backpass fell straight to Ayew, who stopped laughing for just long enough to place the ball into the empty net.
The cherry was put atop Swansea's cake with five minutes remaining: Ayew broke in from the right with ease, Clucas swept home and the inevitable was confirmed.
2. Mkhitaryan makes miserable debut but can help
Only the most rabid Gooner will tell you with a straight face that Mkhitaryan's signing was one long concocted in back rooms by their transfer planning committee. He was a convenience signing, a path-of-least-resistance option when it turned out that Manchester United was Alexis Sanchez's favoured destination.
That said, though, he could be just what Arsenal need. Well, among the things they need, in addition to a proper defensive midfielder, a centre-back or two, maybe a new goalkeeper and a proper, reliable creative force, particularly if Mesut Ozil and / or Jack Wilshere leave.
But one step at a time. In this game Arsenal were one-paced, full of pleasant passing interchanges and nice tricks, without actually really doing anything. They were the equivalent of a pleasant decorative blanket draped over the back of the couch: Fine to look at, but purposeless.
This is a familiar complaint, but what they needed was some urgency. A player, for example, whose main strength was relentless running and penetration in combination with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a few years ago at Borussia Dortmund.
To say Mkhitaryan flattered to deceive at Manchester United is to understate things wildly and quite clearly there's a quality player in there. Now all Arsenal have to do is find him and, after another performance as limp as week-old lettuce, they certainly need him.
3. Carvalhal has inspired hopes of survival
Carlos Carvalhal looked like a particularly curious appointment for Swansea at the time. The curious nature of football means that a man can be sacked from a job in the Championship and then, a few days, later walk into one in the Premier League.
But he had a fine initial impact at Sheffield Wednesday and it certainly looks like he's repeating that trick in Wales. Since his arrival on Dec. 28, Swansea have lost just one game and are still in the FA Cup.
Already Swansea look like a team with more purpose and backbone, by no means a complicated or intricate outfit but certainly one that is more effective. Arsenal made mistakes and handed them a number of chances, but it was the home side's purpose that forced a number of those errors.
Next week's trip to Leicester will be tricky but, after that, Swansea have a run of winnable games before visiting Manchester United at the end of March.
Their lack of activity thus far in the transfer window is a concern and it's odd that they have cast aside Roque Mesa without really having a lengthy look at him, but at the very least Carvalhal has turned them from near-relegation certainties to survival hopefuls.
With the form of teams around them failing, Swansea could get out of this yet.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.