If we ever need one defining moment or match in which to showcase the world class talent that is Cesc Fabregas, yesterday’s win over Aston Villa might just be the best example. A match that was controlled largely by us, but without finding the penetration through to Villa’s goal, we needed something special from someone. That was just the cue for Arsenal’s club captain.
Still feeling the effects of the pulled hamstring, he replaced Denilson and went on to win the game almost single handedly. Fabregas won a freekick just outside of Villa’s penalty area. In the first half, Denilson had a similar chance from almost the same spot but blasted it straight at the wall. This time round, the captain showed that brute power is not required. Perfectly striking the ball with enough pace and height to curled past the Villa wall and into the top corner, past the despairing dive of Brad Friedel. It was a strike worthy of winning any game, but the Spanish general was not done just yet.
Villa were chasing the game and had pushed a lot of players forward in chase of the equaliser. From one of those moves, Traore intercepted a poor James Milner’s pass and put in a raking cross-field pass to Walcott. Fabregas saw the chance and galloped along, keeping pace with Walcott. For all his misplaced passes and wrong decisions, this was not one of those occasions. Walcott slipped in Fabregas beyond the first defender and the captain was calmness personified as he clipped his shot past the on-rushing Friedel, slightly brushing the post before nestling in the back of the net. It was a sumptuous finish to an enticing move.
That was the end of Fabregas’ brief but significant cameo in the game. In those 27 minutes, Fabregas illuminated the match more than anyone else on the pitch. No doubt a performance such as this one, there will be more comments from Nou Camp pleading for their favourite son to go home. It was not all bed of roses though, immediately after the second goal, he wasn’t celebrating much as he seemed to have did his hamstring yet again. No official word has come through on how long he will be out, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Villa came with a reputation of being the only club this season to have beaten 3 out the Top 4 but the fourth was never going to come. Their pace in attack was well neutered by Arsenal’s solid defense. Only twice did Villa broke through the barrier. First was a snapshot from outside the box in the first half that rolled tamely straight at Almunia. The second was almost a repeat of last season’s goal for Gabriel Agbonlahor. Again he presence managed to upset Gallas, who missed the flight of the ball and allowed the England forward to gain control of the ball. To his credit, Gallas managed to get a late block on goal-bound shot and Almunia scrambled to punch away the rebound. That was probably the only 2 things that Almunia had to do for the entire game. If anything, that shows just how well Arsenal’s defense played.
Vermaelen was again the rock at the back. Virtually winning every header and tackle there is to be made. It may only be half a season gone, but he is surely winning the best new signing by a mile already. Agbonlahor will look back at the match and wondered how on Earth did the Belgian kept pace with him and eventually winning the ball and drawing the foul. With each passing game, Traore has grown better and better. Against Villa, Stewart Downing was not given an inch of space to exploit. Not many team can lay claim to have a good left back, Arsenal now has 3. It was good for Traore in the sense that he was disciplined not to recklessly pushed forward everytime we had the ball. In the whole 90 minutes, he barely passed the halfway line at all. With the left back concentrating on defense, Sagna was given more license to foray into the opposition half. Another tactic which worked well, as it meant that Ashley Young had to track back to help out Stephen Warnock, with Nasri and Sagna ganging up on the Villa left back. Sagna’s crossing still left a lot to be desired but defensively as dependable as ever.
For the second game running, Diaby bossed the midfield. He was everywhere on the field. He showed good anticipation and was always first to the loose ball than any Villa player. Combining his quick feet with a greater positional sense, he was the sole instigator of Arsenal’s attacks. One such move allowed Eduardo the chance to turn inside the box but the Brazilian scuffed his shot straight at Friedel. When Fabregas came on, Diaby was nowhere to be seen. That is only because he dropped deeper to help Song to protect the backline. If not for those 27 minutes, Diaby would surely have been crowned man of the match. His late goal was a deserving reward for his performance today.
It is all getting more and more exciting. If last season, the boys went into long periods of slump, this season, they’ve bounced back after every setback. There were more fight in the team than the whole of last season combined. 13 out of 15 points from 5 games is a very good return. Make it 19 from 7 games and surely a Drogba-less Chelsea will start to look over their shoulder slightly worried.