Arsenal produced another confident, assured performance to easily claim a routine win and consolidate third place.
The Chelsea v Spurs game was a no-lose situation for us. The only way to turn that draw into a bad result was to take Aston Villa lightly, but thankfully we weren’t complacent and set about our visitors with a positive attacking game from the first whistle.
In fact we may have been a bit too eager as Villa had the first chance of the game when they caught us on a counter from our own corner. Albrighton picked up the ball in his own half and alarmingly was allowed to sprint into our box unchallenged. Thankfully, he stumbled and blazed over. There were also a couple of times when only Djourou was back as Vermaelen burst forward along with both full backs. I’m all for an attacking policy, but it was puzzling to see us throw caution to the wind in the first fifteen minutes.
After 16 minutes though Gibbs showed the plus side of throwing our full backs so far forward when he thrust into the box, collected Gervinho’s pass and scored with an average shot. I was pleasantly surprised to see a keeper of Given’s quality beaten like that.
It wasn’t long before we had the comfort of a second which came thanks to excellent pressing to win the ball from Villa deep in their half. We pressurised the Villa defence as Given took a short goal kick and forced them into a mistake, gifting the ball to Song. He looked up and got his millionth assist of the season with another superb lofted pass to pick out Walcott, who took it down well and slotted home expertly.
I think the biggest factor in our renaissance has been the willingness of the side to close down quickly and determinedly as we did for that goal. We have been working hard when we haven’t got the ball, not just casually jockeying our opponents and going through the motions. If you re-watch the game in Milan and compare it to any of our last few games you’ll see a massive difference in our approach when we haven’t got possession. I’ve been calling for us to try and emulate Barcelona’s high-tempo pressing game for ages and finally we’re doing it on a regular basis. It’s good to see.
So 2-0 up after 26 minutes and the scene was set for an avalanche. It never materialised though, despite more chances. Song headed over and Arteta forced Given to tip over a pile driver as we looked for the killer third. Nothing was going right for van Persie, epitomised when he scooped the ball past Given after some wonderfully quick feet only to see Warnock make a miraculous headed clearance off the line.
When Theo is confident he is a fantastic finisher
Into the second half and the pattern of play remained the same as Arsenal attacked without ever really going for the jugular. We continued pressing Villa and restricting them to hopeful balls up to lone striker Heskey which produced nothing. Being managed by the dour, negative Alex McLeish, Villa only brought on another striker with 25 minutes left and even then it was to replace Heskey. I’m glad they didn’t have a real go and as such Wenger could even afford to bring on Santos for some much needed game time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was also introduced late on and livened up proceedings with another tremendous run reminiscent of his penalty-winning dribble against Milan. Ireland brought him crashing down in the area but referee Dowd pointed to the ball as if to say Ireland touched it. The loud prolonged boos from behind the goal suggested it should’ve been a spot kick, but I haven’t seen a replay anywhere which suggests it was the correct decision.
Good shots came in from Rosicky and Ramsey before Arteta gave the scoreline a more just look with a sizzling free kick in injury time to underline Arsenal’s dominance. We had 20 goal attempts to their three and won the corner count 15-5.
This was just like the old days with the win effectively sewn up fairly quickly and no need for nail biting in the last ten minutes. I love my comfortable trips to the Emirates! We have now taken 15 points from our last five games compared to Spurs’ haul of just two. They were better than Chelsea yesterday just as they were better than Stoke and Man Utd, but luckily for us they seem to be choking in front of goal whereas we are in full flow. For example, RVP was out of sorts today but we still scored three goals — a very good sign.
So three points ahead of Tottenham and crucially eight clear of a lacklustre Chelsea with only eight games remaining. Champions League football looks probable if we can keep this form and hard work going. For the first time in years it looks like we have found some bottle for the business end of the season — hallelujah!
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