A win is a win, and in these circumstances three points was the perfect fillip, but the manner of the victory posed further questions that need to be answered over the coming weeks.
Let’s look at the positives first. Abou Diaby started and scored, continuing his excellent return to the side since his long lay-off, even if the goal was somewhat fortunate. The defence kept a clean sheet, the first time we’d won and kept a clean sheet in over two months, a run that spans 14 games back to the 2-0 win at Ewood Park in January. It also extended our hoodoo over Villa, who, according to Sky Sports, haven’t beaten us in 17 games now. If that’s true, that’s an impressive record. I certainly can’t remember a defeat in recent years.
On the flip side, Jeremie Aliadiere must be running out of chances. Rather than Baptista being the man getting into the positions and then fluffing it, it was our favourite brittle boned Frenchman. One header, from six yards out, was particularly poor, and on another day, the team could easily have been punished for those misses. Certainly with John Carew, our nemesis from his Valencia days, lurking around, 1-0 was always a dangerous score. I actually think Villa are a much better side than their league position suggests, and with a couple of signings in the summer from their canny manager, they could be a dark horse for UEFA Cup qualification next season.
Apart from the skidding shot that Diaby turned into the net, Baptista had quite a quiet game, and certainly didn’t seem happy about being taken off, questioning Wenger’s reasons on the touchline. Personally, I’m delighted to see that. Firstly, he clearly wants to be out of the pitch, proving himself to the manager, which is a great sign of someone who isn’t letting his own poor form get the better of him. Secondly, whenWenger explained his reasons, he accepted them and walked to the bench. I was hugely impressed by his attitude at that point. No tantrums, just a desire to be out there helping his team. Well done Julio.
It was one of those matches that, to repeat a cliche, could have gone either way, but we’ve had a few of those go the wrong way recently so perhaps we were due. The only other concern is a sentence from Wenger in the link above, which is a line we’ve heard many times this season: ‘We dropped a little physically in the second half’. Why is this? This is understandable during a fixture pile-up, but we had no game at the weekend, and after a week off should’ve been able to last the ninety minutes. Perhaps it was something to do with players only recently returning to fitness. I just know I’d like to hear that tired line come out a little less often.
In other news, congratulations to the youth side (that’s the youth beyond the youthful first team squad), who edged out Man Utd in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup semi. We’ve learnt the hard way how difficult a 1-0 away defeat is to overturn in a two-legged affair, so hopefully the kids can do the same to our rivals this time. Also, well done to the crowd, who turned out in record numbers, over 38000, to see the encouraging signs of the future.