Aston Villa 1 – 2 Arsenal Match Report
1st half observations from a bad stream
The first 45 minutes were pretty different from what I expected. Aston Villa did not close us down frantically and allowed Arsenal plenty of space. Especially Gervinho and Theo saw plenty of the ball, as Villa sat deep in the beginning, allowing our wingers to attack them from the sides. Arsenal also allowed Villa a lot of space and there were plenty of chances for each team during the entire first half. The game was surprisingly open and yet the tempo did not appear to be very high.
After Gervinho had tried but failed to reach the by-line on a number of occasions – not being able to beat the ex-Spud Hutton – Theo was successful at the first attempt. He skinned the inexperienced Carian Clark just inside the box of Villa with a brilliant, ballet-like pirouette, after which he had acres of space to pick a pass. The young Villa defender pulled Theo back and the referee Jon Moss blew his whistle, even though Theo had not fallen down as a result of the pull-back. Penalty. RvP lined himself up to reach an incredible milestone: if he scores he will have equalled TH14 calendar year goal scoring tally. Is he nervous though? No, just BOOM in the roof of the net: 1-0 to The Arsenal.
After that, the game remained open, and after quick moves, both Theo and Ramsey got decent opportunities to score from just outside the box. Both missed the deadly accuracy and calmness of Boy Wonder and, as a result, two half-decent opportunities were wasted. Villa had their own chances, predominantly as a result of playing balls quickly into the box from Arsenal’s LB area to their ‘fox in the box’: the man with the warrior-like name of Agbonlahor (for a while, I dreamed of an attacking combination for Arsenal of Arshavin, Adebayor and Agbonlahor: it just sounded like the ultimate warrior-machine: the tree terrible A’s). I thought Vermaelen struggled a few times to put himself in the right positions in the first half, and as a result Aston Villa had a few opportunities to put the ball into the box from our LB area which led to some half-decent opportunities for them. Luckily, AV were not sharp enough to pounce on these half-chances.
2nd half observations from another bad stream
Aston Villa started well. They allowed us less space and pressed us earlier in our own half. In the 54th minute, an opportunistic, high ball by Villa is defended by Vermaelen, who heads horizontally to Merkesacker. The latter is already on a yellow card and Vermaelen’s header is too short. Albrighton seizes his opportunity by taking the ball past the indecisive Mertesacker, and slots the ball calmly and professionally past the onrushing Szczesny. Quite an impressive finish.
Theo Walcott experiences an almost déjà-vu moment when, just as in the game against Citeh, he gets a decent opportunity to score a goal straight after our kick-off. The impressive again Richard Dunne makes a superb slide-tackle in the box to deny Walcott. Mertesacker seemed desperate to make amends for his and Vermaelen’s defensive error earlier. He was close to scoring a goal from inside the box, not with his head but with his foot, from one of the many Arsenal corners in the second half.
During this half, there is no more space for either Walcott or Gervinho to produce some effective wing-play. Wenger makes three changes in the last 25 minutes: Rosicky, Arshavin and Benayoun for respectively Frimmpong, Gervinho and Ramsey. Arshavin and Benayoun are only given ten minutes to make a difference which is not ideal of course. Frimmpong started to give away unnecessary fouls and both Gervinho and Ramsey looked exhausted.
The changes had an immediate positive impact as Arsenal was able to retake the initiative. We started to control the game and were desperately looking for holes in the middle of AV’s defence. We were awarded corner after corner, and from the 11th corner-kick in the second half – just as every single Gooner had given up hope we would ever score from a corner again – RvP reaches a free Yossi Benayoun (Agbonlahor had not bothered to stay with him in the box), and a late, and no longer expected, Christmas present was delivered to all who love the Arsenal: most probably the lightest man on the pitch, our man on loan from the Chavs, scores with a close-range header: 1-2 with only three minutes to go!
A scrappy win: no doubt about that. Our passing was under-par and we seemed to be missing our FB’s a lot more in this game than against the Mancs. We really lacked a strong/effective shape to the team tonight. There were a lot of tired legs out there, but the same goes for Aston Villa; and that was our saving grace.
A few players were brilliant today: Arteta, RvP, and especially Koz: with their energy and never-say-die attitude they made a major contribution to us winning three points tonight. I also thought Coquelin, after a slightly difficult start, had a good game. I was especially impressed with his ability to play long-range passes towards Theo, or diagonally towards the other winger. This boy has style and, judging on these early signs, will go far at Arsenal. It was also good to see Rosicky back. He really gave us a better shape to the team, almost as soon as he was on the pitch.
And well done to Robin for reaching this incredible milestone. We all know how special Thierry Henry was: one of the best strikers I have ever seen. For Robin to equal his calendar-year goals tally is incredible, and with a bit of luck he will surpass Alan Shearer’s by scoring three more goals in the next two home games.
Three points are three points. It is a game best to forget quickly and for us now to concentrate on our next two home games: Wolves and QPR. The boys will now have a rest till at least Monday and Alex Song will be back. Hopefully there will be no further injuries coming from this game, so we can put out a good team against Wolves. Liverpool and Newcastle dropped points again, and today either the Chavs or Spuds, or both, will drop points. The race for third and fourth place is on and we are now very well positioned; just behind the Chavs and the Spuds. Before Big Ben strikes 12 times on New Year’s Eve, we could be snug as a bug in a rug in third place.