Ouch! The hangover this weekend is ever so slightly more resonant than it was this time last week. Much of the talk before the game had been about using the United victory as a building block for the season, but neither me or any of my party were particularly convinced. Correctly so it turned out.
Slightlyless glamorous visitors than last week and with most players assured a place in the side, the inevitable entrapy ensued. Villa came with a gameplan and executed it excellently, sitting with two banks of four and pressing us on the ball, in Young and Agbonlahor they had the outlets to hurt us, with Sidwell often getting forward to support. The Gunners had no answer and lacked the craft and guile to break Villa down. The first and one of the only Arsenal chances of the match arrived after around fifteen minutes, Sagna's cross was headed away by the imperious Laursen, the ball arrived at Fabregas' feet at the edge of the box, the Spaniard fired a shot straight at Friedel, who spilled the ball out, Gallas reacted but Curtis Davies cleared. The ball came back to Arsenal but Mike Riley decided to stop the game for the injured Davies. He was not badly hurt and did not even indicate that he wanted treatment. When Sagna would go down hurt in the second half, Riley would not stop the game. Officiating of this persistent appalling quality is hard to stomach, but let's not be churlish and pretend the result was unjust, but paying a lot of money to watch nine or ten of your players amble through a game as well as watching referees who, week in week out, do not understand the rules is terribly frustrating. Both Mike Riley and Arsene Wenger have serious questions to ask themselves this morning.
That was pretty much it from Arsenal as an attacking threat who decided to aimlessly lump long balls at Bendtner, when Laursen and Davies are your centre half pairing that is not going to trouble you greatly. Diaby showed flashes of skill but Villa were resolutely organised enough to prevent him creating anything. Bendtner did not have much to work with, but was poor anyway. What was despicable from our so called 'supporters' was that Bendtner was ironcially jeered and then booed as he was substituted. Walcott was equally as ineffective and nonchalant and was afforded a standing ovation. I hope these morons who think that booing a player who, though he did not play at all well, was trying his best never suffer any real injustice in their life that extends beyond an underperforming striker. What a pathetic and childish reaction, I envy these braindead idiots in a way, they must have all led very, very comfortable lives. It seems intelligence inside the Emirates is becoming a very scarse commodity, people just arrive with their preconceptions and exorcise them at the earliest available opportunity. Walcott= English, therefore he can do no wrong.
Villa had stifled Arsenal comfortably and began to cause trouble higher up the pitch. Gareth Barry swung a cross into the area, Clichy's headed clearance was not convincing, the ball fell to Ashley Young in the area, Walcott dived in from behind and bought him down for a penalty. Barry, usually Villa's ultra reliable spot kick taker, had been left prone by a bad tackle from Fabregas. Young stepped up, Almunia beat away his weak spot kick and Gallas was the picture of determination as he slid in to toe away the rebound from the onrushing Sidwell. The Gunners had escaped and it should have represented a turning point. It didn't, if anything it redoubled Villa. Sidwell made an untracked run in behind Silvestre and collected Barry's beautiful flighted ball, he chested it down unchallenged and hooked a weak shot straight at Almunia. Unchallenged. Ashley Young drifted between Clichy and Denilson and let a shot fly narrowly wide. The visitors were well in their stride now, Young drifted in behind Gallas, received the ball on Villa's left, easily beat Silvestre, who looked very old yesterday, pulled the ball back to Gareth Barry, who scuffed his close range shot straight at Almunia. Had the ball been on his left foot you've a feeling the result would have been very different.
Arsenal escaped with a goalless half, Nasri and Walcott swapped flanks and you had the feeling that stern words would have been said by the manager. They didn't transmit. Nasri and Walcott stayed ineffective and uninvolved, Bendtner remained isolated left to unsuccessfully contest long balls, no stern words were being said by Arsenal players on the pitch. With twenty minutes left, Sagna was injured, but not fouled, in a challenge with Sidwell, where Riley had stopped the game for Davies in the first half he demonstrated appalling inconsistency by not stopping the game on this occasion. Ashley Young jinked down the right, the position Sagna had vacated, whipped in a precise cross which Clichy headed into his own net. Seven days earlier, he had headed just wide of his post. Agbonlahor's celebration was disappointing, why he chose to taunt the Arsenal fans I have no idea. He wasn't met with any stick from the area of the ground, I used to criticise Henry staunchly for it, it lacks class and is unbecoming of a player of Gabby's talent. The Gunners flurried briefly, Clichy swung in a left wing cross which Adebayor headed against the post. It was the first time we had won a header in the area all day, I can't help but wonder about the manager's selction upfront. Laursen and Davies are huge defenders who love to head the ball, the height and physicality of Diaby and Bendtner was not going to trouble them. However, Davies and Laursen are not very quick, Luke Young was playing out of position at left back, surely Vela's pace and trickery would have been a preferable and more effective option?
With ten minutes left, it was goodnight Vienna. Vela slalomed between a baying throng of Villa bodies, Laursen fouled him but Riley waved play on. Cuellar pumped the ball downfield, Agbonlahor outpaced Gallas as Silvestre ambled pathetically in their wake, Agbonlahor motored past Gallas and drove the ball beyond his outstretched limb and under Almunia. The goalkeeper might think he should have done better. 2-0 the final score as the boos rang out and it was not at all flattering to the visitors. Sidwell and Barry played with energy and dedication right through the match, Young and Agbonlahor gave us problems whilst Laursen and Davies dealt with Arsenal's limited threat. The lack of urgency and energy in our play was disturbing and the manager nor the players can deny that we simply did not play with the dedication we showed against United. Fabregas is woefully out of form and that has a massive bearing on the fact that we are not creating chances, Villa were better in midfield, upfront and in defence. Silvestre continues to look like an old man whilst even seasoned performers such as Sagna and Clichy are struggling to coruscate with the apathy around them. Denied any kind of space, Walcott was 100% ineffective. Only two players demonstrated an acceptable amount of desire, Gallas and Denilson. The rest were limp noodles and it isn't close to good enough. Once again we looked rudderless and bereft of craft or inspiration. It simply looked as though Arsenal saw how organised Villa were in the first fifteen minutes and decided to give up. Martin O'Neill got his tactics spot on and we were very easy opponents for them yesterday. Am I the only one more excited by the Carling Cup than the Premiership these days?LD.