Another 3 points in the bag that puts us level on points with Chelsea and just 2 points behind Tottenham, until their match tonight at least. Not the most accomplished of performance you will ever see from Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side but don’t let anyone tell you that we didn’t deserve to get all 3 points from this game. It was no stroll in the park but we came out of it with flying colours.
As was expected Alex McLeish managed to get his Aston Villa side to raise their game in the meeting with us despite their current wretched form. The home side was right at us from the opening whistle. By that I mean the pressing and constant hounding when we’re in possession. Nerves were there to be seen and we failed to keep hold of any decent time of possession.
Villa chose to exploit the supposed chink in our armour. Francis Coquelin was preferred as the right back as Ignasi Miquel was not even on the substitute list. The choice was obvious in the absence of Miquel, due to Coquelin’s past experience in that position and in the first half, he did looked like he has not played there for quite some time. While Emmanuel Frimpong got the call in midfield. The rest of the squad remained unchanged.
Charles N’Zogbia was a real menace down the left side of Villa’s attack and Coquelin was suffering a little from the lack of protection from Gervinho. A late challenge that was nothing sinister, earned him an early caution. It seems that Robin Van Persie took him one side immediately and talked to him (this is what I’m told on Twitter, missed that myself). That’s a sign of real leadership because Coquelin came out in the second half with renewed confidence and Villa got no change of his side of the pitch.
The match in the first half was frantic and probably very easy on the eye for the neutral viewers. A brilliant Cruyf or simply just a case of allowing the ball to roll behind him, Theo Walcott created the first goal. He was dragged back by Ciaran Clark and the penalty was given. RvP stuck home the ensuing spotkick with aplomb.
Why Clark was not given a yellow for that foul is beyond me. Any challenge anywhere else on the pitch that involves a tugging back is a straight yellow. Clark would later get a yellow, which in a world where referees are actually competent and consistent, would’ve seen him get an early bath. Playing against 10 men would have made the match slightly easier because despite going one down, Villa came back strongly.
They equalised 9 minutes after the restart. Two defenders were at fault. Thomas Vermaelen for a sloppy headed pass back that was simply a little short while Per Mertesacker for not being totally convincing to get to the ball first. Marc Albrighton nicked in and calmly slotted the ball between the advancing Wojciech Szczesny. An overall poor goal to concede.
We huffed and puffed for the next 27 minutes before something changed to spark us into life. The introduction of Tomas Rosicky, Yossi Benayoun and Andrey Arshavin in place of Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho did the trick for us. Suddenly there was more urgency with our game and the passing were more crisp with plenty of movement up front. Rosicky’s cameo was a particular delight. Always looking for the probing pass and drove forward at every opportunity.
It was 3 minutes before the end of normal time before we got the winner. RvP’s in-swinging corner kick was headed in by Benayoun. The Israeli later dedicated the goal to Vermaele which shows the team spirit that we have at the moment. It was lax defending by Villa from a corner kick yet again. According to Orbinho, Villa has conceded the most of their goals from set-piece this season. The new Arsenal?
If this was last season, we wouldn’t be so sure that we would’ve hung on until the end of the match. There was still 4 additional minutes for Aston Villa to find the second equaliser but that never came. We played out the game very professionally and that was particularly pleasing to see. The attitude and the composure of the team to just keep possession and not take unnecessary risk is very commendable. Allan Hutton was even sent off in injury time to make things easier.
Vermaelen may have to take part of the blame for the goal that we conceded but he was otherwise brilliant once again. He’s called Verminator for a reason and he was everywhere. Joining in every attack and back defending when required. It’s so refreshing to see an Arsenal player who just wants to be as involved in the game as he did. Alongside him, Laurent Koscielny is continuing to impress everyone. Won the ball back when required and was never beaten for pace. His distribution of the ball was also wonderful to see.
Wenger spoke about RvP in the post match press conference. RvP is only 2 goals shy of Alan Shearer’s record number of goals in a calendar year. Tempted as he may to give his captain more games to achieve that, he reminded us again that the team’s priority comes first. And that simply means to ensure RvP stays fit which in return could mean a place on the bench next for the Dutchman.
4 complete days of rest now until the Wolves game at the Grove. Perhaps there’s enough time for RvP to recover and show that he’s not in the red zone yet. Till then, the whole team can be proud of a good night’s work.