Aston Villa 2 (Clark 52, 70) Arsenal 4 (Arshavin 39, Nasri 45, Chamakh 56, Wilshere 90)
First off, apologies for not posting anything about the Braga defeat in midweek. A work function kept me away from the match until later, and a lack of time prevented me from writing about it in the days that followed. It could be summed up pretty simply – we were crap. Yes, we were denied a stonewall penalty, and yes, we were down to ten when we conceded thanks to the opposition kicking Eboue out of the game after we had made our substitutions, but those are disguising excuses – we created nothing against a side sitting in midtable of a very poor league. Still, a win against pointless Partizan and we can relax for a few months.
It added to the malaise created by that awful defeat to Spurs last weekend, and in fact that derby loss probably contributed heavily to the outpouring of anger after a defeat in a Champions League game that should eventually be rendered irrelevant. A response was needed, and Villa Park was never going to be an easy place to produce one.
But produce one we did. The first half was almost embarrassingly easy as the hosts entirely failed to turn up. Pires cut a lone figure on the wing, waiting for any kind of service from teammates who found themselves incapable of playing simple five yard passes, and the midfield surrendered to the impressive trio of Arshavin, Nasri and Rosicky, who pulled Villa apart with ease. Wilshere and Song, coming from deeper, added numbers as attack after attack rained down. Chances were created and missed, and the only worry was that our complete dominance was not reflected in the scoreline.
But by half time, that wrong was righted. First Arshavin took advantage of more calamitous defending to attack from the left flank, before cutting in and firing a fierce shot into the far corner, and then he turned provider when his deep corner was smashed home on the volley by Nasri, via a slight deflection. In between, Chamakh had a header terrifically saved in the run up to the second goal, and Nasri rounded Friedel only to lose his balance and shoot wide.
At half time, nerves were frayed, a ridiculous situation given how in control we were. But fragility is never too far away, and Villa were never going to be as bad again – injuries or no injuries, this is still the side that battered United just a fortnight ago. The next goal was crucial.
As last week, it went to the opposition, and at an almost identical point in the game – five minutes into the second half. Clark’s finish was superb, but it should not have counted – Carew was standing in an offside position, but was not considered to be interfering as he made no attempt to play the ball. The fact he was standing in Fabianski’s way didn’t appear to matter, despite the rule clearly stating that a player standing in the keeper’s line is active. Bad call.
Tension levels were up, but were quickly dissipated when Rosicky’s through ball was poked home by Chamakh, who took advantage of Friedel’s slightly late decision to come out. But those who thought the game was over had to suffer another sting in the tail – poor marking allowed Clark to score his second off the underside of the bar, and a grandstand finish was set up. Wenger’s slightly odd substitutions, taking off Arshavin and Nasri for Denilson and Gibbs, seemed to invite pressure, and Villa surged forward.
Fortunately, they created nothing more, and from a counter attack, Denilson’s shot was blocked, and Chamakh, quickest to the rebound, had the presence of mind to lift a ball over Friedel for Wilshere to nod home his first Premiership goal. It was just rewards for an enterprising performance.
The points were finally sealed, and top spot was secured, at least for a couple of hours until Blackburn rolled over in pathetic fashion against United. But more important than the temporary league position was the game being won after facing similar challenges to those we spectacularly failed last week. Some frailties remain – we still allowed Villa back into a game we had dominated, but they were always going to improve, and a win at Villa Park is an achievement so matter the situation.
That we attained the win was due in no small measure to a brilliant performance from Arshavin, who was direct and creative, causing problems throughout the match. His goal was terrifically taken, and ends a run of nine games without a strike to his name. Welcome back.
In the absence of Cesc, other players needed to grasp the creative mantle, and Arshavin was joined by Nasri and Rosicky in causing Villa continual headaches. We certainly have an abundance of attacking options, made all the more obvious by the presence of three unused substitutes – Walcott, Van Persie and Bendtner. All are likely to play a part in the League Cup quarter final this week.
After the week we’ve had, a response was needed. And while weaknesses were exposed, we got one.