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.
More signings as Cwm build squad
FOLLOWING on from announcing their three new signings last week Cwmamman United have announced a further six this week.
Nathan Davies, who has captained the Carmarthenshire League Select side, joins from Bwlch Rangers while Rob Morgans joins having played with Haverfordwest County and Goodwick United previously.
They also announced the signing of four tremendously talented young players in Oliver Diamond, Korey Palmer, Stevie Evans and Joe Lewis.
“We are really pleased to have these boys on board as we are not only strengthening our first team squad with some really talented players ” said Ryan Stephens, First Team Manager, “but we are also building for the future.”
Ammanford romp to friendly win
AMMANFORD romped away in a goal fest in this pre season friendly beating their plucky opponents Pontarddulais by ten goals to nil on Friday (Jul 12).
Ammanford Manager Gruffydd Harrison will be pleased with his teams workout and even more excited with his forward line finishing prowess.
There were hat tricks for Gavin Jones who showed excellent pace and new signing Tristan Jenkins along with goals from Lee Trundle, Bruno Forkouh, Mathew Fisher and Craig Frater.
Ammanford have another friendly this Friday (Jul 19) when they take on Ynysygerwn.
After that they travel to Pontardawe Town on Tuesday (Jul 23) before a trip to Welsh Premier League neighbours Carmarthen Town on Saturday (Jul 27).
Carmarthenshire cyclist heading to Mont Blanc
WITH THE TOUR DE FRANCE in full swing and the World’s best doing battle against each other, there is another big cycling event taking place within the French Alps.
The Tour du Mont Blanc claims to be the Worlds toughest road cycling event and Llangadog based cyclist, Matthew Page will be lining up and attempting to complete the arduous route.
The event is a non-stop, circumnavigation around the alpine peak of Mont Blanc, starting in France alpine resort of Les Saisies and heads through Switzerland and Italy before returning to finish back in Les Saisies.
Covering a total of 330km (205 miles) with 8300 vertical metres (27,300 feet) of climbing it is roughly the equivalent to tackling two of the toughest Tour de France stages, back to back without stopping and takes in well known alpine passes including the Grand Saint Bernard, Petit Saint Bernard, Cormet de Roseland and Col de la Forclaz.
Matthew is a former professional Mountain Biker, who competed internationally and specialised in 24hr solo competitions and also Carmarthenshire Sports Personality winner. Now a cycle event organiser and cycling media journalist he organises major off-road events within the county including Battle on the Beach, Gritfest and in November 2019 will be organising a round of the British Cycling cyclocross national series within Pembrey Country Park.
With less than 50% of starters likely to finish, Matthew is understandably apprehensive about the challenge: “This will undoubtedly be one of the hardest days I will ever encounter on the bike and despite having done 24hr events previously, the extra challenges the Tour du Mont Blanc brings, including lack of a support crew, route navigation, logistics and uncertain weather especially at higher altitudes. The event has been a major focus for me this year and I am looking forward to the challenge”.
The event takes place on Saturday July 20, with the fastest riders expected to finish in under 12 hours.
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