Abertawe. I have many memories and associations but very few of them are football related. Dylan Thomas, Cwmdonkin Park, Twin Town, Mumbles Pier, The Gower peninsular, stopping for fish and chips at Monni’s on Brynymor Road on my way to visit the Boat House in Laugharne. All happy reflections on that ‘ugly, lovely town’ but football wise Swansea City never featured particularly largely in our house. Mum was a Newport County fan and her four brothers and her dad all played for Tintern, so a club as far West as Swansea didn’t get much of a look in.
There was of course that one crazy season when ex Liverpool striker John Toshack took them to the top of what was then rather prosaically known as the First Division. They had been in the fourth division three seasons before and Toshack performed one of the most remarkable feats of management of my lifetime in winning successive promotions getting from the bottom to the top of the pile in double quick time. They even led the table on more than one occasion, finishing sixth in their début top flight season. Sadly for them it couldn’t last and they dropped like a stone in the following two years and I and many others assumed we’d seen the last of the boys from the Vetch Field. Entertaining but extremely temporary.
As it transpired we were in a way correct. The Vetch is now a sadly dilapidated rectangle of turf, partly turned over to allotments and merely a memory for the old timers of the town. Swansea moved to Stadiwm Liberty eight years ago and have enjoyed remarkable success for a relatively small club. It isn’t a big secret to many of you that I don’t have a great deal of time for any club other than Arsenal. I watched Bristol Rovers in my adolescence and will always have a place for them in my heart, but as far as top flight teams go, well, lets just say I’d rather see my grandparents having sex than watch almost any other side play football. However, I’ll let you into a secret. I have a lot of time for Swansea. They play the game properly. They survived their first Premiership season without resorting to Pulis vile brand of anti football and have survived losing their promising young manager this time around. When they beat us last year I was pretty shocked. I had made the mistake of believing the ‘It’s only Swansea’ brigade. But it was the manner of their victory that impressed me. They did it by outplaying us, pure and simple. No need for hopeless or bent refs, no need for leg breaking challenges, no need for the kind of feeble brained gibberish the press like to call mind games. Instead they just came out and played fast, free flowing, inventive, pacey and attractive football. And I applaud them for that. When Arsene spoke yesterday he said that Swansea were “one of the teams of the season” and we at Positively Arsenal aren’t in the business of pretending we know more than one of the game’s greatest minds. In any case I agree and will even go further – they are one of the teams of the last two seasons and apart from when they play us I wish them well.
You see what teams like Swansea and Norwich and Wigan bring to English football is the clear, unarguable evidence that Pulis, Brown, McLeish and Allardyce and all their knuckle dragging apologists in the press are a bunch of lying scumbags. They all want us to believe that in order to survive at the highest level the smaller teams have no choice but to play violently brutal percentage football based on a thuggish spoiling mentality. Look at Stoke, you say, look how well such a small club have done with this revolting anti football. Well I say piss off you awful little pillock, look instead at Swansea and see that you can be brave enough to play the beautiful game against a club as good at it as Arsenal are and still survive. In fact never mind survive, you can thrive.
So that’s Swansea. What about us? While our opponents are on a high after defeating Bradford City in the league cup, we are coming off the back of a stunning away leg in our champions league clash with Bayern Munich. I can’t speak for the players, that would be silly, but I know a lot of fans are confused by the events of Wednesday night. It’s impossible not to be happy about such a startling victory. About being the only team to keep a clean sheet there this season. There were times we contrived to make them look ordinary, and they were not and are anything but an ordinary side. And yet, and yet, we’ve just been knocked out of the champions league. A tournament we still haven’t won and one Arsene so deserves to win. It’s fair to say our emotions are conflicted. It’s here that having a first class manager with first class staff ought to pay dividends. Arsène will, I believe, use the spirit that earned us that clean sheet in Germany to make his players believe they can do it again. They showed such desire, such commitment and combined with the skill we all know they posses those are the qualities we will need this afternoon and for the next nine games.
Arsène believes we have ten cup finals between now and the end of the season. Exciting times to be an Arsenal fan. Exciting times to be an Arsenal player. While the most important thing today is of course that both sets of supporters get to enjoy a really good game of football, we are now down to our final target for this season so every point becomes more important. Let’s pray our enemies falter and when they do, let us be resolute, let us be victorious.