Swansea prove mettle against Arsenal
Lee Probert's decision to whistle for full-time thirty seconds early on Tuesday night while Jonathan De Guzman was on a breakaway might seem pretty baffling, but it makes sense to me.
Probert was making a decision about which set of complaints he'd rather face: those from influential Arsenal, who are already 'in credit' with the FA's referees following Andre Marriner's case of mistaken identity of Saturday, and would have certainly complained had De Guzman scored a likely looking goal; or those from comparatively powerless Swansea, who weren't even offered an apology after the Bobby Madley penalty incident against Stoke, and won't be offered one this time either.
Tuesday's game ended 2-2, a very credible result for Swansea, and had Probert played by the book and been brave enough to stand by it too, then Swansea might have even won. Instead, an egregiously unsporting decision once again favours the big market side, adding further bloat to this season's refereeing blunder-reel, ironically swollen to bursting the year video technology has finally been allowed to provide a fraction of actual fairness to the world's biggest and least fair sport. Manchester United had 'Fergie time'. Swansea City get 'Monk time', where the game ends prematurely to spite the smaller club.
A draw is the least Swansea deserved. For once, it was the Swans' opponents whose vastly superior possession stats largely meant nothing -- save for a crazy 66 second breakdown in the second half, Swansea contained Arsenal quite happily. It wasn't pretty, but it was inspired, Monk finally daring to stretch some tactical muscle in his new role and have his boys break from the standard and do what was necessary, rather than what was expected. It worked.
The triumvirate of Swansea's biggest and beastliest -- Jonjo Shelvey, Michu and Wilfried Bony -- all started in a formation I have been openly lobbying for since the start of the season, and particularly following the Swans too-soft performance against Everton on Saturday. Shelvey looked a little frustrated in a deeper role, but his physical presence helped deter Arsenal's tiny playmakers from creating very much through the middle -- both the Gunners' goals came from the flank instead.
Ashley Williams sat at the base of the Swans' suddenly muscular spine, and played just about his best game of the season, proving that physicality is still a key component of a successful side in an age where emphasis on technical skill has started to exclude more fundamental athletic principles.
Speaking of raw physical power, Bony once again offered Huw Jenkins some reassurance that his 12 million pounds was not just well spent, but well invested. If there is truth in Everton's interest, then the reported 15 million pounds offer might be construed as a down-payment at best; Bony, who makes previously imposing Romelu Lukaku look lightweight, is worth a lot more.
All credit to Swansea, then. They made Arsenal look ordinary and occasionally hapless (seldom does anyone see so many Arsenal passes misfired into touch). And even if what happened in those 66 seconds was a rude reminder of the gap in class, the resolve Swansea showed to force the equalizer into the net by some trick of collective will proved they are finally ready to fight.
Bony probably should have had a penalty for a blatant off the ball push by Lukas Podolski, and de Guzman might very well have scored a dramatic and incredible winner had Probert only shown as much backbone as the Welsh side. Those things, Swansea can't help, but there are things they can help -- their own level of performance, their willingness to be the harder working side, and their determination to prove they are rightfully a top ten Premier League side and not a relegation struggler. Swansea showed all of that and more on Tuesday. If they can keep doing it, this turbulent season can have a happy ending after all.