Arsenal's hunger tips the balance in defeat of Swansea City

It was as if the world had turned upside down.

Arsenal, perennial members of the domestic and continental elite, were scrapping for their lives at the Liberty Stadium while Swansea City, still relatively new kids on the block, could sit back and relax, their Premier League safety and European qualification already guaranteed.

Football often fails to make sense but therein lies its inherent beauty. As 2012-13 nears its conclusion, Arsenal face not only an eighth campaign without silverware but also a torrid struggle for a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League for a 16th successive season.

In contrast, Swansea continue to purr along under the guidance of Michael Laudrup, the latest manager to embrace the pass-and-go philosophy at the South Wales club. They can laugh at anyone who suggested that they might be relegated, succumbing to the so-called "second-season syndrome", and point to the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in their 101-year history.

Such diverse emotional baggage produced a predictably up-and-down game in the teeming rain but Arsenal's greater hunger, perhaps desperation, tipped the balance. After the high of beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League three days earlier, and the low of going out in the last 16 on the away-goals rule, it was a tribute to their mental fortitude.

"Our commitment and determination, it is something special," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "We dug in when our legs were heavy. I'm very pleased with our spirit, our solidarity. I see it every day. We are ready for the fight until the last day of the championship. We know what it takes."

Knowing what it takes is easy. Delivering consistently, especially as the pressure mounts, is the tough part. Arsenal had to wait, growing more anxious by the minute, until late goals from Nacho Monreal, his first for the club, and Gervinho eased their anxiety. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had twice skimmed the top of the home crossbar in the first half.

However, what has long been assumed as rightfully theirs, a Champions League slot, could yet prove elusive. The Arsenal fans expect regular trips to the Bernabéu, Camp Nou and San Siro as a bare minimum; they would mourn the lack of that usual seat at the top table as they would a loss in the family. For Laudrup, the raising of the bar at the Liberty is his only concern.

"It's a problem, not just in football, but in life too," he said. "When you have success, one of the most difficult things is getting expectations back to a reasonable level. We can't go too high but not too low, either. We have to find a level that is reasonable and realistic. That has to start not so much for this season but certainly next season."

Still, Swansea are bound for the Europa League. And Arsenal, if they miss out on the big prize, are likely to join them. The topsy-turvy world of football holds a fascination for everyone.

Man of the match Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

Powered by article was written by Russell Kempson at Liberty Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th March 2013 22.59 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Matt and Kim Rudge

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