I was a bit of a silly boy, on Saturday morning I decided to tell everyone that I predicted much laughter as the weekend results were sure to throw up a few results in our favour and at the expense of our rivals.
Well as we all know I got those well and truly wrong with everyone in the top 7 before the weekend winning their matches. So Monday night and a trip to Villa Park for us was starting to worry me, despite our stats at Villa Park it feels to me that they have had an indian sign over us at the Emirates, and maybe they could transfer that to Villa Park for just one night.
Arsène surprised a few of us by including Gnabry in the starting line up, the only other significant surprise was Monreal in place of Gibbs. Although in that left back slot Arsene has somewhat of a luxury as proven tonight, Monreal is a fine player and when Gibbs came on to replace him there was no change in balance or ability.
Villa were not in the game from the kick off, we dominated possession but were struggling to find a way through the parked bus, Lambert adopting the counter attacking game that works so well away from home in the Premier League, from what I have heard and read this seems to be Lambert’s default tactic not necessarily reserved for visits of the big boys, it probably explains Villa’s low points haul at home as visiting Premier League teams will be happy to take a point, only a few will push all out for a win. Anyway this is an Arsenal blog not a Villa one so on with the match report.
Young Serge Gnabry took it upon himself to start vandalising the bus, a left foot drive hit Villa’s centre back Baker on the temple and he was unfortunately stretchered off concussed having been knocked out for a minute or two. It is never nice to see a player stretchered off, but it meant that Lambert had to shuffle his pack from the three centre backs formation he decided to go into the game with, which would open up some space for us eventually.
After the restart we took some time to reestablish our superiority and Villa had a couple of nearly moments. We were controlling possession but not really finding a way through the defensive lines, that was until Özil did what he is brilliant at, dropping out of midfield to receive the ball from our defence he had the ball in space and time, his movement had also created a vacuum in the middle of Villa’s lines, Monreal made a great run into space and Özil did the other thing he is brilliant at put the ball on his toe, looking up Monreal found Wilshere who within two touches had put the ball in the corner of the net.
Less than 15 seconds from the restart Jack won back possession in Villa’s half, Giroud made a fine run and Jack flighted a gorgeous ball on to his left foot, Giroud took a couple of touches (one may have been a bit fortuitous but what is it they say about making your won luck?) and with his third drove the ball convincingly into the bottom corner. 2-0 time to relax, what was I worried about?
Both goals showed that technique that Arsène craves in his players, sorting their feet out while moving at pace and under pressure.
We played the first half out at a canter and it is easy to criticise the players for not going for the kill, we still had plenty of possession and plenty of it around the oppositions box, but there was an element of cockiness and there were one too many flicks rather than proper passing and moving.
Unfortunately someone applied the handbrake at half time and no one seemed to be able to find the damned thing in the second half.
Villa grew in confidence and played a bit better than they had in the first half, we continued to be frivolous in possession and made it hard for ourselves to control the game.
With 20 minutes or so to go, Santi gifted possession to Villa deep in our third, and the ball was swiftly delivered into our penalty area where Benteke could not refuse the invitation for a diving header.
We had been relaxing too long and found it difficult to re-establish the upper hand in possession and ended the game conceding a lot of ground and a few too many aerial balls into the box. Thankfully there was no real drama in the remaining minutes of the game and the defence held firm to see out the match and put another 3 valuable points in the bank.
The sad news of the night is that Monreal may be out for a while if as feared he has done a metatarsal, and Rosicky will probably miss a couple of games whilst his nose is realigned. Better news was the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain, and also the return of that change of pace from Jack, it’s still not there every time but he is getting stronger every game, and if he can continue to find those runs and space in the box he should be able to add a few more goals to his tally before the season is out.
Szczesny – 7 didn’t really have a lot to do
Monreal – 8 I really like the way he plays, unlucky to get injured when trying to score a third for Arsenal, good assist for the goal.
Koscielny – 7 did very well to keep Benteke and Abonglahor quiet most of the night
Mertesacker – 8 leader
Sagna – 7.5 Some good crossing tonight strong defensively, can’t really fault his performance.
Flamini – 7.5 excellent cover in the latter stages
Wilshere – 8 one goal one assist, returning to form
Özil – 7 bit too quiet for my liking needs to get involved more
Santi – 6 very erratic with his passing
Gnabry – 7.5 thought he was roaming into the hole a bit too often first half which unbalanced the side, clearly has bags of potential
Giroud – 7.5 nicely taken goal, should have done better with an early header, and hold up play lacking
Gibbs – 7
Rosicky – broken nose no time to rate
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7 just for being back, actually made some nice runs and found himself in threatening positions, I’ve missed the lad
Gooner in Exile