Swansea lost 3-2 to Arsenal this morning in Bob Bradley’s first game in charge, twice coming back from a two-goal deficit but ultimately failing to win any points. In that respect, it was a quite similar to Franceso Guidolin’s final two games in charge of the Swans, when he presided over a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City and 2-1 defeat to Liverpool.
For the first 30 minutes, Swansea were clearly the inferior team, with Arsenal practically camped in their goal and clearances failing to reach the halfway line. Two Swansea mistakes led to two Theo Walcott goals, in the 23th and 33rd minutes. A well-taken Gylfi Sigurðsson strike against the run of play made it 2-1 at half.
The game opened up in the second half, and Mesut Özil perfectly volleyed in a cross, and Modou Barrow picked apart the Arsenal defense to provide for Borja and draw Swansea back within one. The final 20 minutes were a pell-mell, back-and-forth affair, as a result of Granit Xhaka’s thoughtless tackle and resulting red card. Swansea’s man advantage led to quality chances, while their near-suicidal high line led to a dangerous number of Arsenal counterattacks, a couple wrongly called offside. But neither side was able to capitalize on the opportune attacking conditions.
The loss leaves Swansea in 18th, while Arsenal draw level with Manchester City at the top of the table.
Bradley’s first game in charge was always going to draw heightened interest. He is the Premier League’s first American manager, helms one of the Premier League’s better stories over the past half-decade, is viewed with suspicion (at best) by much of the fanbase, and was taking on the purveyors of beautiful football Arsenal away. This is especially true of the American soccer media and fans, which have probably paid more attention to Swansea in the last two weeks than they had in the last two years.
But Swansea were always pegged to lose at Arsenal, no matter the manager, and despite their success at the Emirates in recent years. Even in the notoriously hostile and short-sighted Premier League, Bradley won’t be judged on just one game. If he can guide the Swans to the safety of the back end of midtable—and that probably won’t happen soon given they take on Manchester United, Everton, Crystal Palace, and Tottenham in their next six games—he will keep his job. If they can start nicking points off the top teams and compete with the West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Southampton’s of the world, he will be considered a resounding success.
Bob Bradley is no wizard, but he’s also no schlub. Swansea are good enough to finish midtable, and apparently bad enough to be relegated. It will be a good test of Bradley’s abilities to see where they end up.