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All Killer, No Filler at Villa

All Killer, No Filler at Villa

This was perhaps one occasion when the meddling of television was quite welcome. After a rather raucous leaving do on Friday night, the extra couple of hours in bed was rather welcome, in fact it was kind of surreal waking after nine a.m for an away match. The thick Guinness head was slayed with a well timed fry up at the Little Wonder cafe, followed by a spot of Christmas shopping at the Armoury before joining the coach for the journey North. The away fans have happily been moved at Villa Park this season, so instead of peering through the goalnets in the cramped North Stand. The view from the upper tier was a vast improvement, however, the miniscule gangways and pre historic facilities were much the same. Villa Park is one of my least favourite grounds in the country, it's a decaying monument to a bygone era which the recently revamped Doug Ellis Stand does little to hide. Quite how it has a fire safety certificate I am not sure, the gangways leaving the stands and out onto the streets can scarsely accomodate a single file exodus. God knows how they would cope with an emergency situation.

Arsenal began the match in fine fettle, Villa barely touched the ball in the first ten minutes. Aliaksandr Hleb should have given Arsenal an early lead, Mathieu Flamini sliced Villa open with a slide rule pass, but Hleb never looked comfortable as he tried to round Carson and was eventually thwarted. Much against the run of play, the Villains crept into an early lead. John Carew teased Sagna down the Villa left, his cross glanced off of Gallas' mohawk and Craig Gardner ran in unmarked to slot the home side ahead. Arsenal's response was to up their game further, Lassana Diarra and Mathieu Flamini dominated the midfield battle, whilst the likes of Hleb, Rosicky and Eboue left Villa chasing shadows. A deserved equaliser arrived in no time. Eboue tantalised Villa on the right, playing a delicious one two with Adebayor which opened Villa up, Eboue's pull back was knocked on by Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini showed an animal desire to smash the ball past Carson with his left foot. Having given the ball away in the build up to Villa's opener, it was a sumptuous retribution and another stern performance from the in form Frenchman.

Arsenal's slick football had the purists purring and the travelling fans in acid tongued mockery, 'have you ever seen England play like this?' we asked the home support. Their retort of 'Eng-er-land' (hmm, witty) was quickly shot down with a reprise of the U.S.A chanting so often aimed at United, in response to the current tenure of Randy Lerner. Sure enough, Arsenal edged in front to seal their dominance, Diarra kept the ball alive with a strong challenge and twist and turn away from Gardner, he teed up Bacary 'Banger' Sagna, who provided another pinpoint cross which Emmanuel Adebayor rose to head home. The delivery from Sagna was paradigmatic of his excellent cross for Gallas' header against Wigan. The French right back has proved to be such a sapient addition by Wenger, when right back looked pretty well covered. Messrs Hleb and Rosicky continued to run Villa ragged as an exhibition of total football rarely witnessed saw out the remainder of the half. Flamini's scorching effort rose just over Scott Carson's crossbar. The applause from the away fans were warm and self congratulatory at the interval. The difference between the two sides was clearly more than one goal.

But Martin O'Neill changed it up at half time, moving Shaun Maloney upfront and Agbonlahor onto the flank. Villa disrupted our passing game by keeping the ball in the air, aiming long for Carew and getting in and around Arsenal's midfield.The Gunners' looked a little cumbersome and Villa sensed their advantage. Only Alex Hleb was finding space between striker and midfield, he looked to be our only danger as Rosicky and Adebayor drifted out of the game. Diarra and Flamini were pushed further back and we missed Fabregas' composure. Villa went very close around ten minutes after the break, Carew received the ball back to goal, turned but screwed his finish, which Shaun Maloney latched onto and hooked agaonisingly wide from close range. Minutes later, John Carew, so often the bane of Arsenal's fortune in the past, was to cause us further damage. His cynical hack on curtailed another one of Hleb's mazy dribbles, unceremoniously removing him from the game. I had a good view of the incident and it was a very poor challenge, whether Hleb had been a 'marked man' I doubt. I find O'Neill to be a figure of integrity and diplomacy and I do not imagine for one minute that he would send his side out to do that. But Carew's lunge was desperate and deliberate, this is now the third time this season Hleb has been the victim of a poor challenge, Noble, McShane and now Carew have all been guilty of hacking the Belarussian George Best. Probably an indicator of just how hard he is to play against.

One break away part, where Adebayor misplaced a pass to Eboue that would have put the Ivorian through on goal, Arsenal's attacking prowess was muted after that. Without the link between attack and midfield, too often Almunia would hoof the ball forward only for it to come straight back. The ultimate injustice almost arrived when Carew headed Agbonlahor's cross onto the underside of the crossbar. Karmic retribution had never been quite so welcome. With Carew causing havoc, Wenger brought Gilberto on to usurp his aerial dominance. Despite some sustained pressure, Gallas and Toure held firm and Villa did not really create anything else of note. Ashley Young's dive in the box was lamentable, I suspect had he been sporting an alice band and a French surname we might be hearing more about that this morning. After some nervy moments the final whistle was greeted with high fives and howls of relief from the travelling support, I removed some rather ravaged looking fingernails from my teeth to acclaim the team with an always welcome rendition of 'we shall not be moved.' Arsenal showed two diametrically opposed, but very positive qualities. The first half was a footballing exhibition of aesthetic perfection. But when our level dropped in the second half, we dug in and showed a steely grit to get the points in a difficult away match, in difficult conditions whilst missing some key players. Of course, the national media aren't about to tell you that eleven foreign players are capable of fighting for a result away from home in howling December sleet, so they will bemoan Villa's bad luck. Meanwhile, we'll keep plugging away. Credit to Villa for their manful fight back, but a five point gap has now opened up at the top, and the gauntlet is once again thrown down. Bon faire Gunners.LD.

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Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 2 2007
Time: 1:44PM


I think Arsenal did just about enough to nick the 3 points, and well done to the defence - resolute, for the most part. Hleb was my MOtM despite playing just 60 mins - he put in a sublime performance, but he must surely be the most fouled player so far in the Premership!! I thought Diarra and Flamini had good games as well. Overall, a good away performance against a side in good form. Nice way to start off a tough Dec.
02/12/2007 14:03:00
LD you still had time to change your facebook status a few times yesterday, the guiness couldn't of been too heavy ! and may i also comment off topic about the bird in the photo with you on a recently tagged image, PHRWOAR !
02/12/2007 14:19:00
Everyone talks abt Ade, Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb.. but the guy who's provided us with a great outlet for goals is Sagna. He's been superb since day one.. Yes, Eboue was good offensively but Sagna is brilliant with his crossing and defending. He's my vote for the best signing this season. Simply superb by Wenger.. yet again!
02/12/2007 14:38:00
arsenalrulz4ever, theres really not much of a competition for signing of the season because there was only 3. :p And the other 2 havent played much.
02/12/2007 14:58:00
Nice write up LD, see we face Burnley away in the FA cup third round :)
02/12/2007 15:16:00
Off topic - great to have Burnley (away) in FA Cup. :)
02/12/2007 15:19:00
Emirates?? Dubai?? Desert ?? Sand?? Arabs?? U.A.E. U.A.E U.A.E?? how you stomach supporting a club with so many foreigners is laughable... celebrating the fact you have so many foreigners is embarrssing. Arsenal fans are the worst fans in the country. Pathetic! No songs - just 14 different renditions of Arse-se-nal. Bunch of garlic breathed public schoolboys. Have you won the european cup??
02/12/2007 15:40:00
Fantastic to bet Burnley, finally a ground I haven't been to! And PG, she's a looker ain't she? :-) Jeff Beck, you my friend are "embarrssing." If you're going to eulogise your own nation, might I suggest learning to correctly use the language? My favourite of the 14 renditions of "Arsenal" has to be, "you need more foreigners!" Now, fermez les mush mon amis.
Little Dutch
02/12/2007 15:55:00
Erm.... Judging by that gushing of BNP inspired rectum screaming you are way closer to the right Nazi boy, please change your moniker Jeff Beck was a classic talented guitarist... you on the other hand... well lets just say theres no justice in this world that all those other sperm failed to break through the egg.
02/12/2007 16:00:00
sapient...paradigmatic...? Have you swallowed a thesaurus mate! Just kidding LD, good article. Fair play to Villa, i hope they do well this season. I believe O'neill has integrity, unlike the winker that is JeffCock. Obviously a spud.
02/12/2007 16:05:00
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