Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa; Captain Fab Enough to put Arsenal in 2nd Place

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Captain Cesc Fabregas came off the bench to inspire the Gunners to a 3-0 win over Aston Villa which hauls them back into the Premier League title race.

Telegraph: Arsenal confirmed their status as genuine contenders for the Premier League title with an emphatic 3-0 win over Aston Villa at the Emirates this afternoon that narrows the gap to Chelsea to just four points.

Goodplaya: Arsenal season’s best, report from the ground.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has 2/3 of Arsenal’s goals up already and promises more, if he can get away from his newborn.

Man of the Match

Has there ever been a man of the match go to a player who came on as a sub in the 57th minute, scored 2 goals (one one of which has to be up for goal of the season), and then was subbed off himself at the 84th minute? A 27 minute man of the match?

I can’t think of one before but that’s exactly how I’m calling it because what Cesc did was nothing less than magical. It’s been a long standing moan of Goonahs that Cesc doesn’t score, he doesn’t do well on free kicks, and Arsenal in general don’t score from direct free kicks promising positions. 2 games in a row now Arsenal have put that, if not all the way to bed then certainly tucked it in for a long nap. After two consecutive matches where Arsenal score on a direct free kick I doubt the Journo’s will be breaking out those chestnuts for a while and that is down, partially, to what Cesc did today.

But it was the second goal which was both a moment of beauty and pain. Against Tottenham Cesc showed that he’s gained power and today against Villa he showed a touch of pace as he burst through the middle, was slotted in by … and slotted home past the onrushing Friedel. There would be no celebration from the captain however, as it looked like the strain of running full speed re-injured his hamstring. Fingers crossed that the injury is minor.

Cesc now has 9 goals and 10 assists in League play and has absolutely announced himself as one of, if not the, best midfielder in the world. £40m Barcelona? You’re having a laugh, try more like £80m.

The Good

Diaby missed man of the match, his second in a row, by just a hair. Hardly putting a foot wrong all day, his thrust forward and defensive acumen in the middle of the park was absolutely critical. In the first 4 minutes it was only the rust of Eduardo which robbed him of an assist and Arsenal of a cracking good start.

After that, the Villa machine tried to grind Arsenal’s midfield down but Diaby and Song just kept plying their trade and kept Arsenal in the match until a magical moment from substitute Cesc could break the game open.  But make no mistake Diaby and Song kept us in that game and if we had more on form front men in Arshavin and Eduardo those two could easily have won the game for us in the first half.

Even more critically, Arsenal claimed three points from a team which had made a habit of collecting top four scalps this season, beating Man U, Liverpool, and Chelsea and on a 7 match unbeaten run and a 4 match win streak. Honestly, I thought Villa looked very dangerous and confident of their game plan in the first half. They are a well drilled team who know that they can take their opponents on at any time and endeavor to grind a team down. On every missed opportunity they didn’t get down, rather winking at each other and showing that they were confident of breaking this Arsenal’s defense.

But it wouldn’t happen. Arsenal now haven’t conceded a home goal in any competition since Chelsea came to town. 3 consecutive home clean sheets, 270 minutes without a goal at the Emirates, and a stalwart performance by the whole back 4. Even Almunia looked ok at times!

The Bad

Fingers crossed that Cesc didn’t tear his hamstring. Arsenal’s next three games are away to Pompey (the 30th), away to West Ham (the 3rd), and home to Bolton (the 6th) for our game in hand. After that there’s an Everton match on the 9th and then a week off before we travel away to Bolton on the 17th of January. I almost wonder if Cesc won’t find himself on a bit of a break for three weeks in order to get that hammy all the way rested up.

As it stands, Diaby is a hell of a stand in though after that we are looking a bit thin; Denilson was removed for a back injury, Cesc came off with the strain, and Song goes away for the ACN. That leaves Arsenal with just Diaby, the 19 year old Rambo, Nasri and the mostly unused Merida. I suppose we could see a midfield of Diaby, Rambo and Nasri but even the boss is saying that he might buy a midfielder. Which was virtually unthinkable when you consider we started the season with Cesc, Song, Diaby, Nasri, Rosicky, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere, Arshavin, Eboue, and Merida. Which doesn’t count the players like Walcott and Vela who have played in wing positions in the past.

Yes, a lot of people wanted Arsene to buy a holding midfielder, just for this exact happening, but a reasonable person would have to look at that cast of characters and see that Arsenal have at least three guys who can do the job after Song: Denilson, Diaby, and Ramsey. None of them are ideal, but they are reasonable backups.

Anyway, there will be plenty of time for transfer speculation over the next month and plenty of time for the “I told you so brigade” to complain that Wenger didn’t bolster the holding midfield role.

The Ugly

I had to watch the match on a dodgy stream and when that crapped out I turned to Arsenal TV Online’s weird live commentary combined with stills from the game. I’ll have to go down to Doyle’s here in a bit and watch the second half on tape delay since I missed a lot of the game when my feed crapped out.


Well, well, well… pretty much everyone predicted a 2-1 score and pretty much everyone was wrong. I had a feeling we’d keep a clean sheet and had I been in England (or in any country that wasn’t so hypocritical as to ban online gambling yet have an Indian casino on every corner) I’d have put a punt on the clean sheet and would even have backed that with a 0-0 score line.

I really felt like both defenses would be up for the game and for the first half they were. What I didn’t count on, and what I’ll count on from now on, was Cesc Fabregas putting this Arsenal team on his back and carrying them the final yard to secure all three points.

It’s really clear that while he’s not the most traditional captain, he doesn’t scream at his teammates or tell them where to be on the pitch, he is emerging as an inspirational leader to these boys. And why not? At 22 years old, he’s one of the most experienced warriors that this Arsenal team have. A great game, a great win, and Arsenal temporarily launch themselves into 2nd place, with a game in hand, and lead the league in goals scored having scored 47 in just 18 games.

It’ll be interesting to see how the pundits spin this, having written off Arsenal after the Chelsea loss and now with Arsenal just 5 points off the league leaders. I said all along that this was a two team race and that Arsenal would push Chelsea all the way for the title. Nearly half way thought the year, it’s looking like that prediction might just come true. And if we lift the trophy at the end of the year, it will be the sweetest I have ever had as a supporter. For it will announce this squad as no longer boys among men, no longer a project, but the finished article. On today’s performance, they are nearly there.

Boxing Day Repast

Good morning kickers, Aveline and the family had a wonderful Christmas and the Misses and I even got to get away for some drinks last night. I hope everyone had a great day yesterday irregardless your religious/celebratory beliefs.

Brief blog today, I don’t want to bore you all with 1,000 word diatribes so soon after yesterday’s festivities. Besides, there isn’t much Arsenal news ahead of tomorrow’s important clash with Villa.

The great news is that Traore will be included in the side. Silvestre is more experienced but Traore is markedly quicker both going back and going forward. We’ll need speed on both sides of the pitch to help contain Villa’s pacy wingers.

Le Boss said that Cesc is 50-50 and I’m of the mind that if he’s not 100% I don’t risk him. A small hamstring pull can become a full on 8 week hamstring tear remarkably quickly and as important as tomorrow’s match is the next 8 weeks represent the bulk of our season. Do you risk it?

It’s especially a risk when you consider that one thing Arsenal have plenty of is creative midfielders. While Cesc’s quality and new found power is in a sense irreplaceable you can’t deny the quality of the players who could fill in for him, when they are on their game.  Diaby showed some flashes in the last match of the player we’ve all wanted him to become, Denilson is a good player, and when Rosicky gets healthy he can do the business there as well.

With Villa on a 4 match win streak (and a 7 match unbeaten run) plus a 3 match unbeaten run over Arsenal and a 2-0 win at Emirates last year, Villa are going to be supremely confident of coming in and getting a result. So, tomorrow’s match was always going to take a huge team effort and while Cesc’s quality would be missed, all XI Arsenal players will need to put in a massive performance with or without him.

The good news is that Arsenal have shown up for all but one big clash this season and they are all on 7 days rest, so they can make no excuses tomorrow. Are we a title contender or are we a team which will fight for second place?

Arsenal have 35 points from 17 games which puts them on pace to end the season with 78 points. Chelsea, even though they dropped points today against Birmingham Leg Breakers, still have 42 points from 19 games which puts them on pace for 84 points. Win the two games in hand, no easy task, and Arsenal will be at 41 points in 19 games. That would put us 1 point off current leaders Chelsea at the half-way mark and really announce our title hopes.

First, we’ve got to beat Villa, no easy task, but I think we can get the right result.

Not sure exactly what I’ll write about tomorrow, kickoff is at 5:25am local time, none of the pubs around here are showing the match live and I don’t have Setanta. I can’t very well do my normal 7-8am blog, now can I?

So, I may not even do a blog at all tomorrow and go straight in to a Good, Bad, and Ugly on Monday morning. Unless you all have an idea?

Huntelaar loan, Brownie moan

A funny thing happened as soon as I saw the story saying that Arsenal are looking at Huntelaar on loan; I shook my head.

The other day I told one of my friends that I really do think Wenger’s got someone in mind, specifically someone who is cup-tied, and I think he’s going to go balls out to get him. In fact, I said, it will be the first story you see linking a player over the next few days. Sure enough, this was the first story I saw and while I know that it would bring a lot of joy to the “I told you so brigade” who have been banging the Huntelaar drum for two years, I have to wonder.

Obviously, if Wenger does it, then I trust him but the facts are that from every angle this looks like a really strange move.

  • Huntelaar is cup tied, having come on as a sub.
  • He’s only played 10 matches this season, most as a late sub.
  • He’s only scored two goals, both in the same game, when he came on in the 83rd minute, against relegation bound Catania.
  • He’s the same type of player as Eduardo and buying him would signal that Eduardo is basically surplus, despite the fact that Eduardo has 3 goals and 3 assists in 16 matches — an arguably better haul.

That said, it does smack of “Wengernomics” since we’re basically getting a trial on a £14m player for the price of his salary. If it doesn’t work out, he can go back to Italy. If it does work out, then Arsenal will get some good service in the league at a time when we need a player who can score goals and possibly have a replacement for next year.

As much as I don’t think it’s a good loan, I have a feeling in my bones that Wenger does. Like I always say, “we’ll have to wait and see” and of course “what the f*ck do I really know about talent?”

Finally for today, Phil Brown and Hull City Chairman Adam Pearson had another moan in the press about Arsenal, the referees, Samir Nasri, and the FA. The comedy here has gotten to the point now where I’m starting to actively pray to all of the gods that Phil Brown and Hull City stay up in the Premier League: they are the gift that keeps on giving.

Admittedly, the Hull Chairman was “subtler” with his criticism, saying

We expected nothing less. Presumably we should all just accept it when a player gets kicked for no reason at all off the ball. It is a passionate game and if the FA see fit to charge us for that reaction to a very poor challenge then we will accept that charge and move on together as a team. God forbid what will happen if we actually provoke an incident.

The irony here is off the charts since Stephen cHunt took pretty much every dead ball as his chance to try to knee Almunia in the head for the first 45 minutes of the game. And that’s just the stuff that I can think of off the top of my head!

Meanwhile, Phil Brown took a much more direct approach, outright calling the FA and Nasri a bunch of cheats:

There was an incident for some reason, and I can’t answer the accusations against Nasri. He decided to light the touchpaper. It was there for everybody to see. It needed to be dealt with more severely and hasn’t been. Why we are up for a charge I don’t know.I defend the players to the hilt. As far as I am concerned that lad has gone in there with the intent to start a fight, to start a ruck. Maybe it was because Arsenal were hitting a brick wall in terms of the way they were playing, I don’t know.

Or, maybe, just maybe, you orange prick, your team was running around trying to decapitate the Arsenal players and Nasri stood up to them?

Man, I hope these clowns are around next year.