On Sunday Arsenal played well enough for a draw but left empty handed. Last night Arsenal played well enough for a draw but took home all three points. Such is football.
I have to confess I was guilty of under-estimating Aston Villa before the match. I watched Liverpool absolutely batter them at Villa Park on Sunday and thought we only had to turn up to claim victory against an off-form team shorn of confidence and missing the injured Darren Bent. I have to wonder if the players didn’t let thoughts like that sneak into their minds, however subconsciously, because we started very casually while the Villa boys were obviously up for the match.
As such they dominated early on and Szczesny had to be alert to push away an Agbonlahor header. With Coquelin getting the nod at right back and Frimpong replacing the suspended Song, there was an air of unfamiliarity and nervousness to our defensive play and Villa made inroads time and time again with Szczesny having to claim a couple of dangerous crosses.
After 17 minutes though we finally had a meaningful attack and when Walcott turned on the afterburners and left Ciaran Clark for dead, the youngster naively pulled him back for the most obvious penalty of the season. van Persie stepped up and smashed home an unstoppable shot for a wholly undeserved lead.
The goal settled us though and soon after Walcott was sent clean through by his captain but his attempted lob over the onrushing keeper Guzan struck the American’s shoulder and bounced clear. Then Ramsey slightly overhit a pass to Gervinho who would’ve been clean through before van Persie cleverly played in Ramsey, but the Welshman blazed over when he should’ve done much better. Ramsey really needs to work on his shooting because the rest of his game is coming along nicely.
Our defensive hesitation still hadn’t gone though and no wonder with so many players out of position back there. Villa continued to look dangerous but we made it to the break unscathed.
Benayooooouuuuuuunnnn!!!! Get in there!!!!
That changed on 54 minutes when a punt from Guzan bounced to left-back Vermaelen, who tried to nod it inside to Mertesacker but didn’t get enough on it. Albrighton was on it in a flash and the German committed himself too easily, allowing the winger to skip past him and slide home the equaliser. It had been coming.
There were few clear cut chances as both sides turned over possession cheaply, especially Arsenal, whose passing was well below par. van Persie was looking the most likely (who’d have thought?) and after one driving run into the area collided with Stephen Warnock. Some refs would’ve given a penalty as Warnock didn’t touch the ball and there was contact, although most would probably have waved play on. This one booked him for diving though, which seemed harsh but on second viewing RVP was already on his way down at the moment of impact.
As the game wore on we were still struggling to create any decent chances, but did force a succession of corners as Villa sat back more and more in the closing stages. We weren’t making use of them though and as van Persie swung over our 15th corner of the match in the 87th minute I honestly thought to myself “Surely one of these has to count boys”. Milliseconds later sub Benayoun nodded in from close range and it was game, set and match.
There was still time for some comic relief from Spurs reject Alan Hutton, who clattered van Persie, shouted at him as he lay hurt on the ground and then picked a fight with Benayoun. The ref booked him and had no option but to show him another yellow when he scythed down Vermaelen in injury time. What a prat.
After the match Wenger said of match-winner Benayoun:
Yossi has had to wait for his moment but he has been 100% professional and got us three very important points. He works hard and shows fantastic attitude.
Somehow I can’t ever see him saying that about Arshavin and that’s the reason the Israeli must be ahead in the pecking order from now on. I too am impressed by his effort every time he plays and would expect him to start on Boxing Day when Wenger will surely rotate the squad to rest some regulars.
So a lucky win that was extremely hard on Villa, who’d played well and deserved at least a point. Nevertheless we’ve recovered from Sunday’s demoralising loss with a good result and with home games against Wolves and QPR up next, let’s see if we can reel in Spurs and/or Chelsea over the festive period.
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