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Can Swansea pass the Premier League test?

Steve Wilson | 10:45 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

It's not too often that as a commentator you get the time or the inclination to shout "Shoot!" in the way that a fan might when supporting their team from behind the goal; but watching Arsenal sometimes has that effect on me - and, for the record, I am not a Gunners fan.

It's often been said that Arsene Wenger's team seem to strive for the perfect goal rather than just any old finish; as if a fluky ricochet off some lumbering striker's backside doesn't really count. Arsenal's forwards have tended to work the angles around the opposition box like a couple of Olympic table-tennis champions attempting the world's longest rally.

The time for such luxuries at Emirates Stadium has surely gone after their terrible start to the season and the priority against Swansea City on Saturday has to be to stick the ball in the old onion bag as often as possible by any means possible - even it's more Frimpong than ping-pong. (Sorry - couldn't resist it!)

How appropriate, then, that the side credited with playing some of the prettiest football ever seen on these shores should face, in their moment of crisis, a side which are arguably even less direct in their approach.

Swansea's Nathan Dyer (left) is tackled by Wigan's Maynor Figueroa.

Swansea have found their route to goal blocked so far this season. Photo: PA

Swansea City really are something else. Some promoted teams have sought to stay in the top flight by being ultra-negative, others by being ultra-physical, and a few by being ultra-attacking. I cannot think of a side that has approached the task of staying in the Premier League by trying to simply out-pass their opposition and dominate possession.

It's a style that was first instilled in them by current Wigan Roberto Martinez. The Swans were often described as a kind of Barcelona lite, as they won the League One title in 2008 playing a style of football rarely seen in the third tier. Under current boss Brendan Rodgers they have stuck to those principles all the way to the top - but can they now stay there?

Just how tough it will be for them to avoid relegation was made clear when Martinez's current side became the first Premier League visitors to the Liberty Stadium. Wigan sat back and let Swansea have the ball for much of the first hour of the game, backing themselves to cover and smother the threat of Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair on the flanks, in the process restricting the flow of opportunities for striker Danny Graham.

Once Swansea had begun to run out of ideas Wigan became more ambitious, and but for a missed penalty and two efforts which hit the woodwork they would have won. On BBC TV's Final Score, Martin Keown compared it to Mohammed Ali's famous 'rope-a-dope' strategy against George Foreman in the so called Rumble in the Jungle.

Swansea's problem is that if Wigan can nullify their threat, then so can most of the Premier League. I feel they are really missing Fabio Borini who was such a success on loan from Chelsea last season, but who decided to join Parma rather than shift permanently to south Wales.

The Swans are three games into their Premier League existence but have yet to score. It suggest that they need Sinclair, Dyer and most of all Graham, who joined from Watford in the summer, to adjust quickly to the demands of the top flight.

Indeed, the only time Swansea have found the net this season was when Shane Candell-Sherriff scored an own goal in their Carling Cup defeat at Shrewsbury. Rodgers' much-changed side for that game suggests that the manager will not have cried too many tears over defeat in that competition, but it also indicates that his fringe players aren't exactly hammering on the door for selection in the league.

Rodgers won't be panicking yet though; new keeper Michael Vorm looks a real find, in midfield Kemy Augustien has looked accomplished and comfortable, and you would never guess that Ashley Williams was playing at the back for Hednesford Town only eight years ago.

Swansea should be congratulated for sticking to their guns, but whether they can stick one on the Gunners remains to be seen.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fair play to Brendy Rodgers. He's trying to keep the proper ethos of the game and playing good, entertaining football. Hopefully he can keep them up, but the type of "Barca lite" football their playing will surely help him catch the eye of a big club if he does keep them up!

    To be perfectly honest, I don't think that the team is good enough. Too many lightweights and weak links, but hopefully they keep their style all year and it comes good. Maith thú Brendan, adh mór ort!

  • Comment number 2.

    Being a Gooner I have all too often shouted shoot with a lot of other fans whilst watching them in the pub. Hopefully our new signings can blend in quickly and maybe be on the right side of an 8-2 scoreline but preferably it would be an 8-0 one.

  • Comment number 3.

    What do Arsenal have to do with this blog??????

    Can we not discuss a smaller team just once without having to talk about Arsenal/Man u/Liverpool/Chelsea/Man City?

  • Comment number 4.

    Swansea are the poorest club in the EPL to be fair, last year they had one of the smallest budgets in the Championship and achieved promotion even though tipped for religation. This year quite a few championship sides have spent more on players, but I think the swans are doing things the right way in terms of financial sustainability and building a team. Next year if Swansea are still in the EPL they will have a good core to build on and strengthen, if they go down the core of the team will be kept and Swansea should be in contention to go back up again with plenty in the bank to support the drive.

    Every year I struggle to see where the goals will come from, and with any luck Graham will settle and provide goals, if not then as in the past I hope the midfield can step up and provide them. We do have some good players and we play with great teamwork, as the season goes on I am sure the swans will only get stronger and the goals/results will come. What will determine if the swans stay up or go down is how many of those draws can be turned into victories.

    I really think this article is a little early for panic mongering, as for arsenal a draw would be a great result in terms of what the aims must be. The battle for survival lies with the teams expecting to be battling for middle and lower places in the league.

  • Comment number 5.

    have to say that like blackpool last year, they're virtually dead-certs for relegation whatever style of play they takee so might as well play go down playing pretty football. however like west brom if they can keep rodgers for a reasonable amount of time, they should be able to slowly improving their team/squad and become a yo-yo team, eventually getting promotion and staying there. b4 any1 says anything i am aware that unlike west brom, swansea do have a very small budget.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm really hoping that Swansea find their feet soon. My pre season prediction has them to narrowly avoid the drop, and I still stand by this as by far and away they were the best footballing side in The Championship last season.

    They desperately need to find some goals but I fear where these may come from. Scott Sinclair was heavily relied upon previously, and I believe he will soon become part of the England senior set-up, but I agree, without Borini, Swansea look a little inept in front of goal. I can't see Rodgers and his team changing their principles, which is admirable, but maybe they need to be a little more savvy in possession and not allow teams to stifle their play?

  • Comment number 7.

    Swansea are going straight back down.

    Sorry to be blunt, but can't see them staying up. They'll show some fight and nice football, and win some friends along the way, but it won't be enough. Their squad doesn't have enough quality, goals or experience and the way they were ruthlessly dismantled by Man City shows that the writing is already on the wall.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'd say Swansea were more like Arsenal than Barca, as unlike Barca Swansea are trying to be self sustainable. It's a very admirable approach and one that deserves rewards, for that reason I hope they stay in the Division and are able to improve year on year.

  • Comment number 9.

    At no. 8:

    Really? Barca aren't growing from their own to be self-sustainable? Cause I'm near enough sure that Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Busquets, Pedro, Fabregas, Thiago of possible first team players came through, at some stage, the youth system of Barca. Of the Arsenal squad, most of the first team was actually bought and brought in. Only 2 of the squad, most of whom wouldn't feature regularly, were what could be considered home grown, and Gibbs was the only English one!

    Barca Squad (Not Academy products): Alves, Maxell, Sanchez, Villa, Mascherano, Abidal, Keita, Affellay, Adriano, Pinto;

    Arsenal Squad (Not Academy products): Almunia, Diaby, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Arteta, Rosicky, Sagna, Van Persie, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Squillaci, Song, Arshavin, Gervinho, Chamakh, Benayoun, Ramsey, Santos......

    I'm gonna stop there, buying in players isn't self-sustainable. The facts are there!

    Barca are promoting their best players, for the last few years, from their youth ranks (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes, Puyol) whereas Arsenal's best players have, for the most part been signed in (Van Persie, Fabregas, Rosicky, Nasri) Do you need to be further schooled on what "youth system" means?

    To summarise, buying a load of young players is not a self-sustainable youth system.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sorry, forgot about Jack Wilshere! Tá bron orm!

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 12.

    Dan Striker,

    Sorry, but that argument just DOES NOT wash. That is the kind of lazy, throwaway assumption that Swansea have had thrown at them right the way up through the divisions from League Two. They have consistently shown that you CAN achieve success by sticking to your principles. They have had 3 promotions in 7 years playing this way.

    See also: Brighton, flying high in the Championship having passed their way out of the bottom two divisions. Exeter, who have come from non-league back to League One in a relatively short space of time playing some lovely football. Look at Doncaster, who have even gone one better than that and remained at Championship level for 4 seasons playing attractive passing football.

    Your comments are symptomatic of the problem with this country. There is a fatal flaw in the thinking of most British football fans/journalists that you can't possibly achieve anything just by being a technical side. Well, sorry, but Barcelona have disproved this long ago, surely it is time to learn?

    For the record, Swansea can mix it, but they can also play as well. You don't win League One with 92 points and gain 80 points in the most physically demanding league in the world - The Championship - last season, without being able to stick up for yourself.

    It's nothing personal against you, but attitudes like yours depress me. It's why British football is so far behind the times.

  • Comment number 13.

    poorly researched..

    your right about us missing Fabio Borini but he didnt choose Parma OVER Swansea, he had already signed the pre-contract in Janurary BEFORE he came to us and both we as a club and he has a player couldnt legally break the contract. A bit disrespectful to Swansea to paint us as a club that cant attract what was a Chelsea Reserve player as you seemingly hinted at subtly.

  • Comment number 14.

    Swansea fan here.

    I think there are a lot of positives to take from our start to the Premier league, despite the lack of goals. We have kept two clean sheets from our first three games, have controlled at least parts of the opening 3 games (especially Wigan) and have had plenty of chances.

    With the types of chances we are creating the goals are sure to come. I personally believe the key to our survival is players like Stephen Dobbie. While Britton, Allen, Augustien etc. are great for creativity and passing, they dont really have that finishing edge which players like Dobbie (and Pratley last season) provide.

    Heres hoping we can stay up!

  • Comment number 15.

    This I have heard so many times over the years, as Swansea progressed to the next level, and it was no different when we arrived in the Championship, 'We'll go straight back down', well guess what, we didn't, and while the Premiership is a harder nut to crack, crack it we will! Up the Mighty Swans.

  • Comment number 16.

    As a West Brom supporter I am annoyed that Steve Wilson cannot think of a side that has tried to outpass the opposition and dominate posession. The entire philosophy during our almost ten year Yo Yo era has been to try and compete with the best teams by playing football in the manner that they do.

    Unfortuately, it is one thing to have the philosophy and another thing to have the quality of players capable of fulfilling it. However, by living within theiir means and improving the quality of the squad year on year, we have now got to the stage where we can play attractive passing football and achieve results. This may seem a bit rich seeing as we've played three lost three, but that includes Chelsea and Man Utd and our perennial bogey team Stoke. Last season was a comfortable mid table finish and I see no reason why the same can't be achieved this season as the squad has been added to again and the best players retained.

    With regard to Swansea, there are parallels in that it wasn't that long ago West Brom were a near bankrupt 3rd division outfit. Indeed I recall watching the home and away legs of the 1993 play off semi final where we edged Swansea over the two games, but it could just as easily have gone the other way. A lot has happened since then but in the absence of a multi-billionaire to pump endless funds into the club, the only way to grow and survive is to have the right ethic, patience and foresight.

    When Swansea get relagated this season (which they will), the way to deal with it is to do exactly what they did last seasona and the season before. Maintain the philospohy of the big clubs and try and emulate their style of play. Each time you outplay the Championship, you come back up that bit stronger and more experienced, but the gulf between the EPL and the Championship remains massive, so you can't expect a club of Swansea's size to establish itself in one season or even five. If you do expect that, then you'll end up taking the panic route that has been the undoing of most promoted clubs who are so desperate to maintain their Premiership status they spend money they haven't got on 'name' players who are way past their best, get relegated and have to sell off their best players to survive. Before long they become like so many clubs....Leicester, Coventry, the Sheffields, Middlesbro, Charlton, Derby etc., etc. who fail to maintain an upward momentum because their expectations are unrealistic and based on a short term mentality, a 'mix and match' style of play that is neither sufficiently physical nor sufficiently skilful to compete and a long term debt as a result of wasting millions of pounds on players who don't gel as a team.

    So I wish Swansea well, but you have to be realistic and accept that as things stand the club is woefully short of quality, as West Brom were the first few seasons we tried outplaying the likes of Arsenal and finding ourselves outplayed. The gap has definitely closed though and it can be done without spending vast sums of money. The key is patience, discipline and continuity. The other thing is to accept there is a ceiling beyond which clubs of a certain size cannot go unless they have the backing of people with more money than sense e.g. Man City. West Brom will never win the league. They might get to the stage where thyey could qualify for the Europa League, maybe win a League or FA Cup, but even those notions remain elusive dreams until we have established the club as a regular top ten finisher. It all takes many years. The problem for the likes of Swansea and Hull and Burnley and Barnsley and watford to name five, who have a rapid change of fortune and find themselves catapulted for the lower divisions to the top flight in a few seasons is that they think the momentum will sustain itself and fail to make continfency plans for the inevitable fall back into the Championship within one or two seasons of that euphoric rise. They lose touch with the things that got them there (team spirit and good football), fail to keep the core of the squad intact and before long they're scrabbling about in the lower leagues again, a lot poorer and none the wiser for the experience.

    Keep the faith high, but the expectation low and success will come from the setbacks. Assume there won't be setbacks, or that you've cracked it simply by getting into the top flight and setting your expectations at an unachievable level (to survive the first or second season with an Chamionship quality squad) and the only way is down, down and down again.

  • Comment number 17.

    they've got arsenal next so you can bet your bottom dollar they will break their scoring duck there! no vermaelen either!!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Swansea are well capable of getting a result of sorts at Arsenal. Any team is. If they go at Arsenal, the Gunners defence will crumble. Arsenal are ok v teams who let them play, but are mentally feeble. Lets remember too, they arent near the team they were. Im a Gunner too!

  • Comment number 19.

    @ 9. Steeny, I think you missed 8. Gobal_Inc's point...

    Since when has a self-sustainable club and home-grown players been the same thing? Both Arsenal and Barca are able to service their respective interest payments, hence it can be argued that they are both self-sustainable. I would hedge a bet, without a detailed look at the accounts of both that Arsenal are more sustainable thou!

    Swansea might be Barca-Lite in a footballing sense, but i can see the arguement that as a football club that they are Arsenal-Lite.

  • Comment number 20.

    YNWA-83 beat me to it there. Have a look at Arsenal's accounts compared to Barcelona's and Arsenal would clearly come out on top. Barcelona were recently reported to be in massive debt, but the fans and rich benefactors would never allow the club to go bust. Yes, they have lots of youth players coming through, but they've also got a track record of spending huge sums on players, something you can't accuse Arsenal of without a sly grin on your face!

    I see no reason why Swansea can't compete in this league. Over the first three games we've grown in stature and confidence, and should have won against Sunderland, a team who should finish in the top 10 this year and one who beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last year with a display of good solid football, not one derived purely from luck. Also, to the poster (Vox) who stated that our "dismantling" away at Man City proves we will be relegated... well let's end the season now if it's that obvious shall we? Arsenal lost 8-2 to Man Utd and Spurs lost 5-1 at home to City, so I guess that makes it us three for the drop? People say and see some crazy things in football...

    Swansea City would be one of the only clubs in the UK that would actually fit in with UEFA/FIFA's "financial fair play guidelines" and not enough is made of this. All this financial foul play is, in my eyes, tantamount to cheating and more should be done to stop it, but until brown envelopes full of "gifts" stop running the world, I don't see it happening.

    Swansea City and proud.

  • Comment number 21.

    This year personally think that the three promoted teams will go down, the struggles last year for the teams like Wolves and Wigan will have strengthened those teams who will do their damnedest to make sure they don't get involved in it again.

    From what I've seen of Swansea on the TV, they pass very well, they create some chances but they aren't converting their chances and their defence isn't particularly strong.

    But if teams like say Blackburn / WBA (or maybe Fulham?) have a dodgy spell then there may be hope for the promoted clubs, but again you have to ask where the goals are going to come from for the Swansea / QPR / Norwich...?

  • Comment number 22.

    Spain, for all their brilliance, do not score very many.

    Arsenal, who also like to pass and pass again, do not score enough.

    If those two struggle, how can Swansea be expected to make it work?

    The problem is a psychological one: if you don't want to give away possession, you are disinclined to shoot. If you miss (or even score!) possession is lost.

  • Comment number 23.

    Midland 20, do you really think Spain struggle? Obviously they'll never win anything with their scoring record!!
    And Vox populi (to repeat the point) obviously Spurs, whose 5-1 home defeat is probably worse than our 4 nil away defeat in my eyes, are a poorer team than Swansea.....get real mate, we won't really know anything much until we are 10/12 games in. Should Swansea start scoring maybe we will have enough in our tank. I'm a realist so fully accept we are probably going straight back down but "it's a funny old game"
    And finally, coffeedodger, I hope we model ourselves on your long term plan, build slowly and PROPERLY without gambling excessively and maybe in 10 years we will be a consolidated premier league team. It's (hopefully) to our benefit that so many other teams need to slash their budgets to meet the fair play rules.

  • Comment number 24.

    Surely though if they can keep the ball then the otherside can't score?

    The worrying thing is for sides like Swansea, West Brom and even my own NUFC is that say any of us won the League Cup...that's great but could anyside afford to spend enough the season after sustain 4 tournaments? Surely it would be only fair for Europa League and League Cup winners not to have to play in the League Cup the season after?

  • Comment number 25.

    24.At 16:21 8th Sep 2011, GrandFalconRailroad wrote:
    Surely though if they can keep the ball then the other side can't score?


    You sound like Arsene Wenger! Possession is meaningless without penenetration. Keep the ball for an entire season, get 38 0-0 draws, and get relegated with a meagre 38 points... The obsession with keeping the ball is a media led phenomenon that has grown out of control in recent seasons. All these possession stats over each 5 minute period are ridiculous and futile. Yes, Barcelona do it - but: a) they have the best players in the world, and b) their real strength is the way they play when they don't have the ball, no side works harder at pressurising opposition. My biggest concern for Swansea is the strikers - is Graham worth the money? I doubt it.

    As for being excused the League Cup if you're in the Europa League I can't see the point. Just play an inexperienced team in the LC the following season. For god's sake its only 5 or 6 games (if you go all the way!) over a season. Again, like possession stats, the obsession with games played by each player is maddening too.

    Everybody wants to copy Barcelona's possession game - well, fine, but how about also noting how many games Messi, Iniesta & Xavi play each season without moaning about fatigue too??

  • Comment number 26.

    19 & 20. Think you chaps need to look up what self-sustainable means. You two seem to be mixing up self-sustainable with financial stability.

    Once you have looked up what self-sustainable means you will understand the link with home-grown players. To be fair, I think the original post no. 8 made the same mistake of thinking self-sustainability is the same as just being financially sustainable.

  • Comment number 27.

    26 - Well said! Am an Arsenal fan - but not deluded into thinking we're Barca. Funding & internal young talent are different things & with success Barca have, I'd go for some debt & great memories. Sorry to see Wenger actually think Arsenal are stronger than last year! With their disturbing injury crisis every year you have to subtract at least 2 of their best players at any one time. As for Swansea fans, stay true, but be prepared for a little kick & rush in the winter!


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