AFC Swansea City continued their inspiring relegation fightback by beating sixth-place Arsenal to record back-to-back league victories and rise out of the relegation zone.
The Swans replaced Paul Clement, who was sacked on 20 December, with former Sheffield Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal. Many AFC Swansea City supporters were perplexed by the decision to appoint Carvalhal, due to his recent sacking with The Owls in the EFL Championship.
Carvalhal has taken everyone by surprise with AFC Swansea City’s remarkable improvement in form to climb off the bottom of the Premier League table. The Welsh side accumulated an underwhelming tally of three wins in their opening 20 league fixtures and have been stranded at the foot of the league standings since 13 December.
Paul Clement masterminded their relegation survival plot last season, which began with a famous win against Liverpool at Anfield. Ironically, Swansea City gained momentum from their win against The Reds on 22 January to inspire them to another scintillating victory against Arsenal yesterday.
Their previous five league matches since the arrival Carvalhal has contained just one defeat, which took place on 2 January against fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur. It’s been a gripping new year at the Liberty Stadium and they’ve finally been rewarded for their relentlessness and diehard attitude by emerging from the drop zone for the first time since 4 November.
Stoke City, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion are all scheduled to play this evening, which could condemn The Swans to another spell in the relegation zone. However, they currently boast the best form in their previous five games compared to the three teams above them and below them in the league table.
What Has Carvalhal Introduced to Change AFC Swansea City’s Fortunes?
Improved Their Leaky Defence
AFC Swansea City were leaking goals at a concerning rate, especially in the latter stages of Paul Clement’s reign. They conceded 13 goals in the last four matches under Clement, which equates to an average of 3.25 goals per match. It was clear that Carvalhal needed to pay a significant amount of attention to their susceptible defence, but also apply a more attacking system.
The Swans played a defensive system under Clement, by deploying various players in deeper positions, but they were unable to prevent the opposition from scoring. Tammy Abraham was regularly found stranded in the final third with a lack of service contributing to his underwhelming goal return.
Carvalhal has given the attackers more freedom and supplied balance to a team which was disintegrating in front of the supporters’ eyes. He’s brought stability to the club by mainly playing a back-three, rather than persistently alternating the formation, which led to the players becoming unsettled under Clement.
Implementing a High Pressing System
AFC Swansea City have implemented a new high pressing system, which was illustrated perfectly for their second goal in the 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium. Jurgen Klopp plays this style, known in Germany as “gegenpressing” and it’s also a system religiously used by most Bundesliga clubs.
However, whereas Klopp plays a riskier high-pressing system, Carvalhal has intelligently identified AFC Swansea City’s defender’s deficiencies and ensured the system won’t leave them easily vulnerable to the counter-attack. This has been done by playing a back-three, with two wing-backs to form a back-five in defensive scenarios.
Leroy Fer and Ki Seung-Yueng are more attacking options in the centre of the park, rather than the more defensive Roque Mesa, who’s been sent out on loan to Spanish La Liga club Sevilla. They penetrate the ball forward and contribute massively to harassing the opposition defence and midfield, whilst Clucas and Dyer help Jordan Ayew with pressing from the front.
1) Hector Bellerin moves over to the left hand side to take a throw-in deep inside Arsenal’s half. Nathan Dyer, Sam Clucas and Jordan Ayew position themselves around Arsenal’s defence to press the receiver of Bellerin’s throw.
2) Nathan Dyer, Sam Clucas and Jordan Ayew quickly react to close down Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, although you could argue Arsenal’s defence were very static and should’ve noticed in the oncoming traffic of players set to swarm into the penalty area.
3) The Gunners defensive players were unaware and slow to react to AFC Swansea City’s sudden surge on Arsenal’s goal. They suffocated the amount of space and time Cech had to release the ball, which in avertedly forced him into conceding possession and gifting The Swans with a lead just past the hour mark.
Significant Rise in Goals Scored
The AFC Swansea City attack was bereft of confidence and freedom in the opening twenty league fixtures, which is evident from the remarkable contrast in the statistics between the club under Clement and Carvalhal. From watching The Swans, they sat very deep but lacked the enthusiasm, freedom and speed due to a purely negative system to break on the counter-attack.
With the likes of Nathan Dyer, Sam Clucas and Jordan Ayew playing more advanced roles under the new management, they’re also contributing more to the Welsh side’s goal scoring record. They’ve scored seven goals in their previous five league matches, compared to just eleven goals in their first 20 games in the Premier League.
Most clubs tend to react positively to the introduction of a new manager in the early stages, as AFC Swansea City did under Clement last season. However, it’s clear that Carvalhal has introduced numerous improvements to help guide The Swans towards safety.