A goal in each half from Cazorla gave the Arsenal the just sort of scrappy win that a team lacking in fluency needs to regain confidence. Without looking convincing the team, carried by Santi & Jack to an extent, snatched the 3 points needed to keep the top four finish in sight despite a Villa equaliser that led to a nervy final twenty five minutes.
After a two successive home defeats Arsenal returned to the League on a bitterly cold day to line up against Paul Lambert’s Villa to stop the rot and prevent 3 losses in a row, which last happened over a decade ago. Team selection wise the only surprises were Diaby preferred to Ramsey and Giroud starting over Podolski; Sagna’s injury meant Jenks came in at right back with the BFG/Vermaelen centre back pairing and Monreal completing the back line. The announcement of the subs brought a smattering of boos when Gervinho’s name was read out; slightly disappointing behaviour that.
The away section was more or less full and the stadium overall was probably 80-85% full to my eyes with the Villa fans soon settling into their “Kumbaya my lord….oh lord, shit support” chant as soon as the Gooners initial cheers for their team subsided
Arsenal started brightly – if not as quickly as we’d like, still in a more positive fashion than lately with Jack and Santi the form players catching the eye.
Jack was driving forward with all his dribbles and surging runs and for once an early Arsenal goal was scored by him feeding Santi, who slotted home after his initial shot seemed to rebound back to him. A welcome early goal prevented the shivering Gooners from the anxiety of seeing the away side grow in confidence while the score remained nil nil.
“One nil to the Arsenal” drowned out the Villa fans as well as their curious habit of applauding non-stop and for no apparent reason, a real puzzler.
Villa seemed to create little and a number of times passes up field went astray or long punts into touch, N’Zogbia contributed little and Agbonlahor, except for a theatrical dive, also seemed anonymous. Having said that a number of the Arsenal players were struggling with Diaby looking like he would lose possession every time he had the ball, his languid, casual (and slow) style not very convincing.
Diaby did thread through some useful passes but he and, unusually, Arteta shanked a few passes astray. After Diaby dwelt on the ball too long he seemed to be fouled, with the foul not being called and Diaby getting booked for tripping over his tackler in retribution.
Jenks was having a quiet game but in time I believe he has the potential to be a quality fullback, his attitude reminds me of Dixon when Ian Wright once spoke about a half time talk he was getting from George Graham: “Look at Dicko, he’s having a ‘mare but he still wants the ball”.
Jenks has the same attitude and I’d take that sort of guy over a more talented but lazier player every day of the week. Theo also had a relatively quiet game but he’d clearly been identified as a danger man and Villa were doubling up on him, the lad certainly tried though and did break his shackles enough times.
Aside from scoring the opener Santi was buzzing all over the pitch, chasing lost causes and generally snapping at the heels of the Villa defenders – on one occasion he was sure he’d won a goal kick but when a corner was awarded to Villa I saw him, a few yards in front of me, bawling at the lino – the man cares!
Only Jack seemed to have the same snap all around the pitch and the same confidence that he would not lose possession.
Half time approached and Arsenal went into the break one nil up with not too many scares.
The touchline half time interview was with Paul Davis, an under rated (by those outside of Arsenal FC) player of the George Graham era, who had silky skills, and was delighted to be still working for the club he loved in some capacity.
As the second half kicked off the skies darkened and flecks of snow peppered the pitch as Arsenal continued to press forward for the second goal at the end opposite to me, the North Bank, with cross after cross from Theo failing to find an onrushing forward for a tap in and a two goal cushion.
Giroud was working hard and his aerial prowess in defence and attack is something I’m glad we have. In recent years we had no forward who could win flick ons from our goal kicks with any regularity and the fact Olivier works so well at defending corners and free kicks away is what has endeared him to the Gooner faithful. The tosh perpetuated by the English press about him having to win the fans round is just that – tosh.
Sadly a recurring feature of Arsenal’s play came back to allow Villa an equaliser – namely over committing ourselves at corners and being caught on the counter – a clearance from an Arsenal corner was met by a misdirected header from Jenks, which fell into the path of the wee man Weimann, who scurried between our centre backs to score. Looking at the replay on the big screen Chesney didn’t seem to have covered himself with glory as quite a few around me suggested he should have stopped the equaliser. The 2 or 3 good saves he made in the first half from rare Villas forward forays were forgotten and I sense much will be made of Chesney’s clanger.
Having heard about the fractious atmosphere at the Blackburn game I feared the home supporters would be getting jumpy, however while there was exasperation at the chances spurned, on the whole the crowd were there with a “Come on Arsenal!” to keep the sustained pressure up for the last 25 minutes of the game.
Ramsey replaced Diaby then Podolski for Jenks, a sign that Wenger wanted the 3 points so that Ramsey then slotted into right back as the surge for the winner started.
It has to be said that the referee today didn’t have a bad game and reasonable consistency was shown in what constituted a foul/push and what was a dive.
As time ticked on Lambert and his assistant were jumping up and down in, and sometimes outside, their technical area like cats on a hot tin roof. Mindful of the fact that an Arsenal winner seemed imminent. Monreal, who had a decent game (except for one occasion where his positioning allowed him to be bypassed and a Villa shot on goal resulted) latched onto a through ball, I think from Podolski (who had entered the fray with a shot almost on his first touch), with an overlapping run that ended in a cross which Santi, with a deft flick of his left foot, planted into the bottom right hand corner.
The stadium let out a shout of relief and a sea of clenched fists raised to the heavens was to be seen. Reward for the attacking play in the last quarter of the game was there in the form of the winning goal. Even the clapping had stopped in the Villa section as their fans realised they were in the relegation zone now and no amount of Kumbayas would change that fact.
Injury seemed to last an age but there did not seem to be a sense of panic amongst the crowd about conceding a late goal, and the final whistle meant three scrappily fought for points were ours.
Not the most convincing of performances but how many times have we seen the so called experts laud a ManUre performance where they won a game in a similarly scrappy manner? Three points are vital for the return of confidence for our team and while it was a less than convincing performance all points are needed at this stage of the season.
Onwards and upwards, UTA!
Charybdis1966 (on twitter and Youtube)