With Swansea and Arsenal meeting in the FA Cup tonight, here's how the Swans have become just like the brilliant Arsenal of old...
Swansea City are still striving to cement themselves as what’s seen as an established Premier league team, and tonight they go up against the household name that is Arsenal in the 3rd round replay of the FA Cup. One club having been a mainstay of the Premiership since its inception 21 years ago against a club who 10 years ago stared at the abyss, rooted firmly to the bottom of league 2.
The Swans’ rise through the divisions has been nothing short of sensational. In those 10 years, Arsenal have taken a different route, winning the last of their 3 Premier League titles in the 2003-04 season, and their last piece of silver-ware in the cup competition which they face Swansea in today.
In 2002 The Swans, after a bitter struggle with then owner Tony Petty, were bought by the Swansea City Supporters Trust and a consortium of local businessmen for £20,000 and put into a CVA. The trust still owns 20% of Wales’ only Premier League Club.
Each of the many managers in this time have left their own mark, but the ethos has always remained the same. Slick, passing football. Football the way it should be played.
With local business man Huw Jenkins sitting as Chairman of the club and overseeing appointment after appointment of the next ‘messiah’, a brand and style of football has been developed that is often envied by others and in actual fact has been likened to that of their opponents’ this evening.
Whilst Swansea are no Arsenal, with one club’s trophy winning history, stadium size and bank balance dwarfing the other’s, on the pitch the once massive gap is becoming smaller and smaller.
Arsene Wenger, since taking the helm of the Gunners in 1995, encouraged his team to play slick, determined, attacking football, employing the likes of Viera, Fabregas and now Wilshere as the central figures to this plan. But recently, it’s been ‘Little Old Swansea’ that has had the better of the top flight stalwarts, having won two and drawn one of the previous four encounters.
Swansea under Michael Laudrup have taken elements of Wenger’s approach and philosophy that were characteristics of the Arsenal of old, and harboured them into a well drilled style that makes them worthy opponents at the top level.
Laudrup has built upon and tweaked the fluid 4-3-3 system (one utilised by Wenger himself) which served his many predecessors so well and has assembled a team that can churn out results through the kind of disciplined performances that Arsenal fans have been deprived of recently.
The similarity between both starting 11′s is there for all to see: the belief to play the ball from the back, to manoeuvre the opposition out of their rigid formation to enable another perfectly executed slide rule pass to reach a teammate before setting rapier like wingers away to torment the opposition fullbacks.
Both teams are capable of playing a midfield 4 with no player touching the 6ft mark and technical ability on the ball has become a hallmark of both clubs. It’s with the arrival of the Dane, though, that there is a hint of the Arsenal of yesteryear. In Ki Sung-Yueng, Jonathan DeGuzman and Kemy Agustien there are glimpses of the Viera and Petit.
The increasing dependency of a Swansea back 5 that are well drilled at defending first and foremost and take pride in clean sheets, blocks and tackles before they can think about their passing stats is again the qualities that many Gooners wish that their current squad possessed.
And then there’s the jewel in the Swansea crown – Michu. A man bought by Laudrup for £2.2m in the summer whilst Wenger added to his long and expensive list of signings with Olivier Giroud arriving for £10m more than Michu, and at the same time letting the talisman that was the free scoring Robin Van Persie go to United.
Wenger has come under increasing pressure this season after a roller coaster first half, whilst his counterpart has flourished in his first foray in to the English game and now it is Laudrup who is being touted for the Real Madrid job as opposed to it being Wenger, as it would’ve been in years gone by.
Laudrup has been a refreshing revelation in his management style, willing to adapt tactics on a game by game basis as well as finding a fine balance of squad rotation. The bus has been parked when necessary, but it’s also been driven directly up to the opposition’s goal when it has been allowed.
As a player it seemed that ice water ran through his veins. Cool, calm, composed, it seems he has taken this into his managerial career. Never getting too carried away with a result and never getting too despondent when the Swans have thrown away 3 points.
Now to refer back to the long preamble to this piece, perhaps the biggest similarity and difference at the same time is the ownership of the clubs. Whilst Arsenal are renowned as one of the biggest clubs in England and Arsene has fought tooth and nail for the club to fall in line with the financial fair play directive, he’s let the pairing of Michu and Chico slip through his grasp. Both rumoured to be on the cusp of call ups to the Spanish national squad, both were purchased for less than £5m combined. Has Wenger lost his ability to spot a player? Laudrup certainly hasn’t, even taking Kyle Bartley from the Emirates to South Wales after his brothers recommendation following KB2′s time on loan at Rangers. With a board made up of ‘Swansea people’ who continually back the incumbent, the club is thriving both on and off the pitch. The club at board level is made up of fans in not just the Trust member that sit there, but the Chairman and directors. They travel home and away, back the managers and players through thick and thin, and are transparent with the fans. What more can you want from a board?
Tonight’s match should be a cracker with two of the Premier League’s more attractive sides going head to head for the third time this season.
Here’s hoping the less successful ‘little brother’ knocks their older sibling off their pedestal once more.