Arsenal went into the game four points behind Spurs and only five behind Chelsea. Anything other than three points would not have been good enough if we were to keep aiming for top four. With Chelsea playing City on Sunday and us playing Spuds next week, we went into the game knowing how important it was not to drop points. Villa went into the game in a pretty shoddy run of form, which went with their pretty shoddy team to be honest. I was personally disappointed not to see them relegated last year (partially just because of McLeish relegating Birmingham the year before). Apart from a good result last week against Everton their recent spell of poor matches included going out to Bradford in the League cup, I mean honestly, who does that?
The game could not have started much better, with a goal coming after 6 minutes from the little Spanish magician. He hasn’t been at his best for a while now, with lots of people citing the lack of winter break as a reason for his fatigue. This seems to have gone now, with a brilliant performance today. After his one two with the defender he scored second time round, to get the game off to a flying start. It seemed to ease off bit after that, with Villa building up some pressure. Defence never looked like it would hold out for a clean sheet. Quite soon after our goal, a decent save from Szczesny off an Agbonlahor chance showed how the game could have progressed if we did not score at least once more. Another chance, this time from N’Zogbia, emphasised this a little further. We had a couple of chances as we began to build up a little bit of momentum and start gaining more possession.
As it stood at half time, we looked the better side, but not by much. Arsenal should have been creating more, with an incredibly young Villa defence, which was also without Vlaar. To their credit, it was not the Villa side we have seen in recent seasons, they did appear to want to attack, not putting 38 men behind the ball, as some of our recent opponents have done (namely Stoke and Sunderland). At the back, we weren’t looking dreadful, but never fully confident. There was one play which I feel summed up Jenkinson perfectly as a player; he received the ball near the half way line, not in much danger, fannied about with it for a bit and misplaced a pass. Straight after doing so he sprinted down the entire half, nabbing the ball off Agbonlahor on the wing, then dribbled back to beyond where he lost it and gave off a great pass. His inexperience showed in him losing the ball, but never stopped working to get back and make up for his mistake.
We started the second half with a more dominant attitude, rarely giving the ball away and pressing them down in their half. Anxiety was, however, starting to build. Notably at Giroud and Diaby in particular; both players had below par games. For Giroud, it was the usual criticism of his lack of conversion, which is pretty crucial for a CF. Even when he is playing well, I never fully trust him to bury a chance. A good one-two with Cazorla followed by a spliced shot from about 8 yards out was the worst of it. It was the type of shot that Van Persie would have scored 9 times out of 10, and Giroud would not. Directly comparing them, however, is pointless. I remember reading when he signed for us, that in his last time at Marseille, he scored a lot, but it took him lots of shots to do it. He was far from clinical. That is pretty much what he was like today. His hold up play is still some of the best I have seen from an Arsenal player in years; it’s just incredibly frustrating to see him miss chance after chance. Diaby did not look at his best, he slowed the game down in a way that cost us time on counters and when we were trying to build up our tempo. Also, he got booked just before he was subbed off in an entirely pointless and petulant way that we thought we had got rid of when we sold Song.
Frustration starting building even further after a series of corners and Arsenal over-committed players. After yet another Arsenal corner got cleared, they found themselves outnumbered 4 to 3. Then Weimann got the ball on the half way line, ran virtually straight forwards and shot just off the keeper. Everyone should have done better. We should not have squandered so many corners, we should have closed down the ball when we did and Szczesny should have done more to save the shot that he got a hand to. Overall quite sloppy play to concede, what seemed like an inevitable goal. We had just over 20 minutes to get a goal otherwise we would be in serious trouble. Hints of Blackburn all over again. The next 10 minutes were a bombardment of corners and half chances, with namely tame efforts from Giroud and Walcott. Finally, after some great link up by Wilshere and Monreal then Cazorla, a cross finally went in and put the fans minds at ease, with five minutes to play. The rest of the game was reasonably nervy but was over soon enough.
3 points were exactly what we needed, no injuries or stupid suspensions also a good sign. Not quite enough to paper over the cracks of some poor recent performances, but promising never the less. Come on West Ham and City!