THE Liberty Stadium on Tuesday (Jan 30) saw Swansea take on Champions League hopefuls Arsenal with the charismatic Arsene Wenger, the longest serving manager in the Premier League barking instructions from the dug out.at his team.
The ‘Venga’ boys were out but it was the enthusiastic home crowd who were up for ‘the party’ from kick off.
Referee Mason dished out 3 yellow cards, all to the visitors as the greasy surface drew many rash challenges leaving Mason little time to dream of ‘heading to Ibiza’, a destination the Dutch based Vengaboys’ hit single from 1999 made famous.
Wenger the manager has thumped around in the top echelon of English football for over two decades, winning seventeen trophies during his tenure, including a double in 2003/4 when his ‘invincible side’ went through the season unbeaten, the first time it had been done since Preston North end did it 115 years before.
The Frenchman has calibre and panache and his ability unquestioned from the time he replaced Bruce Rioch, although his side arrived winless away from the Emirates in 2018, with new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan named as substitute.
Carlos Carvalhal, in stark contrast, had been defeated just once in his seven game-reign since arriving two days after he was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday in December, a side the Swans could potentially face for a place in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup if they overcome Notts County in next week’s replay.
The all whites started with a spring in their step, Nathan Dyer creating a half chance for Jordan Ayew inside ten minutes and another when he sprung a fizzing cross to Alfie Mawson at the far post, whose effort was blocked by a combination of former Cardiff City midfielder Arron Ramsey and goalkeeper Petr Czech.
Dyer was an outlet and consistently in space as the all blue away kitted ‘Gunners’ took a while to settle on the front foot despite two thirds possession, escaping again when Leroy Fer put Sam Clucas clear only for Mohammed Elneny to make a goal saving tackle and Ki Sung drove inches wide from 25 meters out. Wenger sat calm and collected in the dugout, having seen it all before whilst Carvalhal prowled with gusto, driving his side forward in a proud blue anorak.
Football is a game studied by many and absorbed by even more, with Wenger an author of his own book of football management, popular in Japan where he managed Nagoya Grampus before he was enticed to London. The written word meant little as Ayew put centre half Mike Van der Hoorn racing away and the innovative corners that followed fell on fallow land.
Lucas Fabianski saved from Alex Awobi at the other end, Ayew miscued a chance he created with a run from the halfway line before the opening goal on 32 minutes moved Wenger from his seat, as a delicate chip from Mesut Ozil to the far post saw full back Nacho Monreal ghost in unopposed.
The lead lasted just a minute, as Mawson beautifully slid in a pass for Clucas to drive the equaliser low passed Czech at his near post, greeted by a volcanic eruption of Hymns and Arias. A pop group genre these supporters do not aspire to be, settled on a mantra for dulcet harmony which stirs the emotion of anyone present, Welsh obviously but even the most patriotic Englishmen would be hard pressed not to have a lump in their throat.
Five minutes before the break Fer broke from midfield and held off the attention of three players before tamely shooting into Czechs waiting hands, Ayew aside him with the goal at his mercy. Boom, boom, boom forced Wenger up, hands gesturing in frustration at both the pace of the subdued visitors play and technical execution.
Swansea work rate off the ball was unquestionable, breezing with freedom when on the front foot as their seven shots in the first half testified when fourth official Roger East signalled a minute of extra time, under no duress from the TV Broadcasters tonight.
The half time music aptly blasted out the David Bowie classic ‘we can be heroes, just for one day’ to greet the players reappearance, where the Premier Leagues bottom side first half performance belied their precarious position.
Mawson has become the drum master for the home side and for the second home game on the bounce they had more than parity against sides chasing Champions League places. Clucas saw his headed opportunity go wide after a pin point cross from Kyle McNaughton where the Swans tactics of a 4-3-3 formation, allowed a spirit to attack.
Both Managers had attacking forces warming up, Arsenal including want a way striker Oliver Giroud in the company of Mkhitaryan, as Mason produced the yellow card out for the first time to Elneny.
An hour into the game and Mkhitaryan replaced Elneny but was powerless as the stadium erupted once more, this time to ‘who are you’ when Ayew struck for a 2-1 lead, rolling in a gift from goalkeeper Czech whose feet got caught under 6’5” frame.
Czech was nervous, flapping in his goal unlike the ‘Big Pole’ who now had a watching brief as the Swans faithful were living the dream and Dyer’s left foot shot beat Czech but not the upright with 20 minutes to play.
Héctor Bellerín went into the referee’s notebook for a naughty foul on Ayew and the Arsenal frustration was compounded when Ozil talked himself into the same book. Wenger’s credibility was on the line as he threw on Giroud, for possibly his last Arsenal appearance, for Awobi with a quarter of an hour remaining in an intense and absorbing encounter.
Ten minutes remaining and still Fabianski remained untroubled, Dyer left to wide acclaim from the stands and high fives from his management team, with Tom Carroll entering the fray. Mawson continued to marshal the assistant referees’ offside signals as the game entered its final phases,
Three points were Swansea’s when Carroll took on Dyers mantle, releasing Ayew who drove into the penalty box and Clucas pinged a right foot shot into the net. A clapping Bony came on for Ayew and the home side were out of the bottom three and the relegation zone for the first time since November, with Routledge coming on for man of the match Clucas in injury time.
The ‘Tinkerman’ Carvalhal has gone from intensive care to the maternity ward at Morriston Hospital as the Club have been reborn. Could Ibiza be the promised land for Swansea? The plane has certainly taken off from Wenger Airways, possibly heading to West Virginia, as that’s where ‘Jacks; belong when they can’t ‘help falling in love’.
The next port of call is Leicester City on Saturday (Feb 3) before Burnley arrive at the Liberty Stadium the week after.