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Liberty Stadium, Wales

Referee: Howard Webb | Attendance: 18848

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Swansea City

  • Michu 58'
  • Danny Graham 87'

2 - 2



  • Lukas Podolski 81'
  • Kieran Gibbs 83'

Unconfident Arsenal seek Cup fillip

John Brewin
Michu tormented Arsenal in their recent league meeting, scoring twice

Having failed to scratch a seven-year itch last season, Arsenal's trophyless years could reach eight if they do not win the FA Cup in May this year. When Arsene Wenger collected his fourth FA Cup in seven years in 2005 such a drought would have been difficult to believe. And it is belief that Arsenal have lacked too often as they have suffered one disappointment on another.

On their quest to reacquaint themselves with glory, they travel to face a team that has beaten them twice in succession. Just under a year ago, a Gunners team featuring Robin Van Persie and Thierry Henry lost 3-2 to Swansea City in a match that announced that South Wales' answer to Barcelona might just be hanging around in the Premier League.

That defeat wiped away the goodwill that the FA Cup had brought Arsenal a few days before; Henry's scoring return on his debut against Leeds United was probably the club's finest moment of the whole of 2012. It reminded of previous glory, and eventually the team recovered to qualify for the Champions League with plenty in hand. The FA Cup, however, brought fresh heartache in a fourth round defeat at Sunderland that was among their worst performances of the 2011-12 season.

It was in Wales that Arsenal's last trophy was collected, eastwards from Swansea in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, and a task of great difficulty will greet them. While Arsenal must retain their focus on the battle for fourth place at the very least, Swansea have something of a cigar on, sitting 11 points clear of the relegation zone. An FA Cup run would delight their fans, though focus will be on Wednesday night's trip to Chelsea in the League Cup. In that competition, a trip to Wembley lies just two games away rather than five at the least, as in the FA Cup.

Michael Laudrup once looked a risky choice of manager, especially considering the reputation that Brendan Rodgers had garnered for himself. Yet Swans fans have been able to enjoy a team that plays a far more attacking style of football than Rodgers' belief in possession for the sake of passing football. It also helps that Laudrup managed to bag the signing of the summer transfer window in Michu, with apologies to the far more costly Van Persie.

The Spaniard's two goals at the Emirates produced the loudest boos heard at the stadium in a season of considerable disquiet. Swansea had beaten Arsenal at what used to be their own game; patient football paired with lightning-fast attacks. It began the latest of Wenger's crises, though a fine Christmas period had abated the grumblings, or at least until last week's dull draw at Southampton. Swansea, aside from Bradford City on penalties, were actually the last team to beat Arsenal.

Yet all remains familiarly discontented at Ashburton Grove. There is still residual disquiet at the humiliation of a traumatic exit from the League Cup at the hands of Bradford. The Theo Walcott contract affair is the latest to be a bone of contention for Wenger; he must be sick of answering questions on the subject of players' futures, as he has done every year since Nicolas Anelka was his player. Whether Wenger's now-first-choice striker begins at Swansea is a question since his manager has often rotated in the FA Cup, and often to disastrous effect. Five years ago, an Arsenal team five points clear in the Premier League was sent to Manchester United shorn of many of its stars. They lost badly, and soon their season fell apart. Too often under Wenger, momentum has been surrendered needlessly.

If a Champions League crown is to be ruled out for Wenger's team, then the FA Cup, a competition he once dominated, ought to be targeted if silver is to gleam in the Emirates' rather empty trophy cabinet.

Swansea City player to watch - Michu It was obvious that Arsene Wenger would be asked about the man who scored twice to defeat his team just a few weeks ago. His answer that he had not pursued the Spaniard since he was a player "who did disappear a bit" did not convince many, at a time when many are beginning to doubt his once unmatchable scouting skills. His importance to Swansea is undoubted, as evidenced by having scored eight more goals than any of his team-mates. There is a possibility, however, that his recently injured ankle may be rested ahead of Wednesday's semi-final.

Arsenal player to watch - Carl Jenkinson

As Bacary Sagna struggled against Southampton last week, many pointed to the misfortune of Jenkinson not to be playing in his stead. He performed admirably at the start of the season while the Frenchman recovered from a broken leg and many were surprised when Sagna was not shifted out left as Andre Santos struggled. A pre-Christmas signing of a new deal signalled that a bright future is expected of him. He is expected to start at the Liberty Stadium. He may even cement his place from there on.

Key battle: Danny Graham v Thomas Vermaelen

Graham was the winning goalscorer when Arsenal were beaten in January 2012 on a Sunday afternoon of ruinous defending from the Londoners. Vermaelen was absent that afternoon, as an unfamiliar backline faltered against Graham in particular. Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou had little answer to a striker who, in combination with Nathan Dyer, ruined hopes of a comeback. Graham, who has revived his Swansea career of late but is said to be still unsettled comes up against a defence which still remains unconvincing. Vermaelen, yet to prove himself as a true Arsenal captain, is the nominal leader of that defence.

Trivia: Arsenal have not failed to make the fourth round of the FA Cup since 1996, when Bruce Rioch was the club's manager.

Stats: No Premier League player has as many clearances off the goal-line this season than Swansea midfielder Leon Britton (four) (Opta).

Odds: The Swans are 3.60 to win at bet365, and Arsenal are 2.10. The draw and a replay that will please neither manager are on offer at 3.75.

Prediction: Swansea to have their eyes on Stamford Bridge and Arsenal to take at least one more step on the road to Wembley.

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