Swans need to regain stylish form

Posted by Max Hicks

There is a moment in the children's film Bedknobs and Broomsticks which, viewed through a modern perspective, sums up the British game better than just about anything else. It is, of course, during the animated football match between two teams of animals watched with interest by young Charlie Rawlins.

-- Swansea waiting on Britton

AP PhotoMichael Laudrup and Arsene Wenger have both brought diverse influences to English football.

When a flamboyant ostrich receives the ball and begins to put on a show of skill, Rawlins yells "Get rid of it!", echoing the contemporary sentiments of the average man on the football terrace up and down the land. It seems unlikely a South American crowd, for example, would feel the same way, prizing individual skill as highly as they always have.

This was 1971, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. However, at the same time across the North Sea, Ajax of Amsterdam had already begun to play Total Football, a system most often associated with its poster boy Johan Cruyff -- who, as a manager, later brought Michael Laudrup to Barcelona as a player, where Laudrup would learn many of the principles he now encourages in his Swansea side.

A lot has changed in British football since 1971, or even since Laudrup's Barcelona days, although it is interesting that most of the now-familiar continental flavour has been imported rather than homegrown. Arsene Wenger alone has overseen Arsenal's transformation from drab offside-trap enthusiasts to cultured proponents of 'proper' football.

Swansea's development might have its roots in the reign of English-born Welshman Kenny Jackett, but it has been the combined efforts of a Spaniard, a Portuguese, a Northern Irishman and now a Dane that have seen the small club so often favourably compared with the best footballing sides in Europe.

One of the teams that Swansea draw the most comparisons to are Saturday's opponent, Arsenal. Both sides rely on a passing game to move the ball about on the ground, and it is usually the significantly higher-than-average completed-passes statistic which unites the sides.

If the sides share a philosophical similarity, there are a number of obvious differences. Arsenal are the established top-flight side, and have a fan base, payroll and transfer kitty which far exceed those of Swansea.

Regardless, matches between the sides have usually been close, with the Swans actually edging recent league encounters, with two wins to Arsenal's one.

Saturday's table is set with all the pressure on the bigger team. Not only is there an imbalance of recent results to set right, but the London club are expected to qualify for the Champions League next year, and that means a top-four finish.

The Swans' aspirations are somewhat more modest. With European football already assured for next season thanks to the club's League Cup victory, all that remains is to see how high they can finish. At the moment, it looks like a toss-up between eighth or ninth, in direct competition with West Brom, who the Swans un-usefully lost to last week.

While Saturday's game ought to be easy on the eye, it will be interesting to see how a potentially cagey Arsenal side will handle a carefree Swansea. Recently, 'carefree' has translated into 'careless' on the pitch.

While the Swans should relax having secured Premier League survival and won some silverware, two sloppy second halves have raised questions about the side's commitment to a strong finish.

Wenger will deliberate over which group of unconvincing defenders he will play in front of either a burnt-out starting goalkeeper or recently resurrected backup. Laudrup will hopefully give ex-Arsenal man Kyle Bartley another go in his own defence, while the return of Leon Britton should at least bring some serenity to a recently dishevelled Swansea midfield.

The game is wide open, but since Arsenal did so well Wednesday at Bayern Munich in a match which didn't really matter, I almost expect them to choke in the one which does. At least Arsenal fans will know which excuse Wenger will use to explain it afterwards.

In the meantime, even a loss for Swansea wouldn't be a bad thing if the Swans can string two decent halves together. The Premier League's top four sides loom on the horizon. It wouldn't be a bad time to start finding some form.

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