Arsenal arrested their worrying run of form with a narrow 1-0 win over Premier League new-boys Swansea at the Emirates.
Andrei Arshavin scored an opportunist’s goal five minutes before the break after a mistake from Swans keeper Michel Vorm, but they failed to kill off Swansea, who rallied late on as some desperate defending and a howling miss from Danny Graham saw the hosts close out the victory.
Arsenal move out of the bottom three after their first win of the season, while Swansea slip down to 17th.
In addition to their last stand, the Swans were denied by the woodwork and some fine goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny.
That is not to say the Gunners did not deserve the win – Robin van Persie also hit the post and missed a few good chances, as did Aaron Ramsey and late substitute Marouane Chamakh – but it was far from convincing given the clear quality advantage over Swansa.
As expected, the new-look Arsenal side dominated possession for much of the first half, without creating too many clear-cut chances: the best opportunity fell to Ramsey in the second minute, but the Wales captain blasted wide when put clean through by an excellent through ball from new-boy Arteta, who impressed initially but faded as the match progressed.
Another Arsenal debutant was Germany defender Per Mertesacker, who largely looked composed but almost fell short when he failed to hold off Graham as Kemy Agustien swung over a superb cross: the former Werder Bremen stopper’s blushes were spared by a wonderful reflex save by Szczesny, who clawed the ball away from the inside of the post.
Those early exchanges summed up the game, as Arsenal pressed and pressed while the Jacks used their pace on the counter attack. And down the other end it was a Swansea man’s turn to pull off a last-gasp stop, this time defender Steven Caulker as he bravely hurled himself into the post to hook Theo Walcott’s low finish off the line on the quarter hour.
A 20-minute lull followed before any meaningful opportunity was created, as a wicked cross from Neil Taylor during the visitors’ best spell of pressure wrought havoc in the Gunners defence before Kieran Gibbs smacked it behind for a corner.
From that set piece Mertesacker made up for his earlier hesitance with a trademark flying block after his team-mates failed to clear their lines, and it was starting to look like Brendan Rogers’s side would give Arsenal more than a run for the money they spent on transfer deadline day.
But, from nothing, the hosts went ahead, thanks in part to a blunder from the previously impressive Vorm – and to the brilliance of Arshavin.
Vorm gathered a mis-hit Walcott cross and, in an attempt to quickly release a counter attack, he rolled the ball against the heels of full-back Angel Rangel, possibly intending to put it through his legs as he run away down the right.
Russian playmaker Arshavin – whose work-rate and quality have been questioned over the last year – had been a determined thorn in Swansea’s side all game, chasing everything down and forcing errors from defenders, and he completed his personal turnaround by showing great vision and skill to drive home a first-time left-foot finish from the acutest of angles as a hapless, helpless Vorm looked on.
Despite that blow the visitors were not disheartened, and for the remainder of the half and from the restart they saw at least as much of the ball as Arsenal – and they went very close when Scott Sinclair’s fizzing free-kick beat the flying Szczesny and bounced off the crossbar.
That seemed to wake Arsenal, who responded in kind as Van Persie hit the post after a trademark dribble inside from the left, while minutes later the Dutchman failed to keep his shot down after a clever one-two with Ramsey on the edge of the area.
Swansea were suddenly on the rack, and Arsenal introduced another new face into the equation as Yossi Benayouncame on for the tiring Arshavin, who was afforded what is now a rare ovation from the home fans.
But with Benayoun failing to get into the match, it entered another mid-half lull, with the only move of note a bizarre sequence of events that saw Bacary Sagna place a cross too close to Vorm, who completely missed the ball only for Van Persie to react far too slowly to what was an open goal, the ball bouncing away to safety as both players looked on with a shade of embarrassment.
The latter stages of the game saw Arsenal control possession, wary of giving the Welsh side a chance to hit them on the break, with chances rare: the best opportunity fell to substitute Chamakh, who played to type by heading straight at Vorm after Gibbs’s excellent cross found him free from eight yards.
Referee Stuart Atwell signalled four minutes of added time, which sparked Swansea into a renaissance of sorts. Led by substitute Mark Gower, a former Spurs trainee, they battered the hosts in injury time, with some excellent defending from Sagna keeping them twice at bay when his colleagues struggled to cope with the pressure.
Then came the show stopper as, from the resultant corner, Szczesny fapped, Caulker knocked the ball on and Graham – with the goal at his mercy – blasted over, leaving everyone of a south Welsh disposition with heads in hands.
It was a bad miss by any standards and one that has further implications for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who has his work cut out if his nervous side are to build up enough confidence to challenge for a European place, let alone the title.