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Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0

The Boxing Day fixture has always been a favourite of mine. After a day of indulgence, both imbibed and masticated and no small amount of cabin fever, it represents the perfect excuse to get off your arse, out of the house and start flaunting some of that very nice clobber you got for Christmas. One of my most visible vestiges would be a red and white woolly hat hand knitted for me by a friend who happens to be an Aston Villa fan. She did not appreciate my post match assertion of "lucky hat!" As is the modus operandi for seasonal fixtures, pre match routines are broken up somewhat, with a mixture of an early kick off and the fact that I travelled to the game from my sister`s flat in Dartford meant the usual pre match pints weren`t the order of the day (even if I did sneak in a cheeky lonesome Guinness before the game). Frank McLintock was given a richly deserved round of applause on the pitch before kick off as he celebrates his 70th birthday today. But the news we had agonised over for days was available and leaving us somewhat in limbo as Cesc Fabregas was deemed fit enough for the bench.

With Chelsea again dropping points on Boxing Day, the fixture had assumed a seminal importance and that feeling of anticipation danced off the brisk December air and onto the immaculate North London turf. I had the rare pleasure of actually hearing Arsene`s pre match interview on the big screens (we usually don`t arrive into our seats until a good five seconds before kick off) and he spoke of the importance of not allowing Villa the chance to establish the pattern for the game. The conviction appeared to carry weight as Arsenal were quick out of the blocks. In the first minute, Eduardo swung a corner into the area which evaded everybody and sat invitingly for Thomas Vermaelen on the back post, but Friedel pawed his low effort away. Two minutes later, Arsenal could see the whites of Brad Friedel`s eyes once more. Denilson tucked the ball into Diaby on the edge of the area, he brilliantly turned Warnock before shifting the ball to Eduardo in the box, he pirouetted around Cuellar but hit a tame shot straight at Brad Friedel. The goal against Hull City last week does not appear to have elevated his confidence any. But from there, Villa settled into the game and lined up with numbers behind the ball, pressing and harrying and leaving Agbonlahor high up the pitch for the counter attack. Villa had a brief flurry of attacking intent towards the half hour mark, Downing found Milner`s powerful forwards run in the left channel, he cut the ball back to Agbonlahor who was snuffed out by Song, the ball broke to the internet`s most famous camera masturbator Ashley Young and his shot took a wicked deflection via the heels of the closing Alex Song and bounced just over the bar with Almunia stranded. The resulting corner saw panic and confusion reign in the Arsenal area with Almunia failing to take charge of his six yard area, the Gunners smuggled the ball half clear, until Stephen Warnock pumped another high ball into the Arsenal area, Stewart Downing cushioned it down for Carlos Cuellar who scuffed his shot badly wide. We were thankful that the opportunity fell to a centre half.

Arsenal did reassert themselves on the game again briefly. Abou Diaby looked to be Arsenal`s most potent threat, whilst Villa looked comfortable with the attempted long balls to Arshavin or the passes into his feet with his back to goal, Dunne and Cuellar were safe in the knowledge that no Arsenal players were running in behind them. Lord Lowe and I commented that the lack of mobility in Villa`s centre halves could well be their undoing, they did not look so comfortable with Diaby and Arshavin facing goal and running at them. Eduardo found Denilson from the left; he tucked the ball back to Samir Nasri on the edge of the area, but the ball just wouldn`t sit, giving Warnock time to charge down his looping volley and deflect it over the bar. Alex Song fought tooth and nail for the resulting Nasri corner, but headed just over. The first half had been a very keenly fought contest with Villa denying Arsenal space and pressing well, though they offered little in the way of attacking ambition beyond the odd long ball to Agbonlahor. For their part, Arsenal were not penetrative enough behind Villa`s backline of big and burly, yet not outstandingly pacy defenders.

Arsenal would need to establish a greater tempo in the second half and they provided just that. Not after Ashley Young was booked for yet another ridiculous dive, a curious habit for this player. I await his media crucifixion a la Eduardo in today`s press with bated breath. The Gunners, with Diaby pressing them on, began to go for the jugular. Warnock cynically pulled back Nasri as Arsenal broke away. Dunne showed dissent to a surprisingly in charge Phil Dowd by tossing the ball away in anger. Arshavin sportingly pleaded with Dowd not to book Dunne. Since Arshavin does not bear an English surname, no English media outlet will credit this. What a shame it was then when three minutes later, Villa captain Stilian Petrov ran to the referee to demand the sending off of Alex Song after a minor foul. Eduardo`s resulting free kick from the right hand side caused panic in the Villa defence and Friedel beat the delivery away. Arsenal nearly had the ball in the net two minutes later when Arshavin`s in swinging corner was nodded down by Eduardo and Gallas` attempt on the turn was smothered in the line by Friedel. Arsenal had their tails up and so did the crowd, Villa were rocking and an injury to Denilson saw Cesc Fabregas enter the fray. The stage was set and the Spanish king delivered. Fabregas gave Arsenal a greater forward impetus by pushing on beyond Arshavin and looking to cause the visitors problems in their penalty box. It was one such dribble on the edge of the Villa area that attracted three Villa defenders to Cesc before he shifted the ball right to Arshavin, he suddenly had time and space to deliver one of his trademark snapshots with little back lift, Friedel palmed it away and Dunne foiled the rebound with Eduardo poised. Arsenal were attacking with belief and intent and were looking like a force of nature. Villa were rocking.

Arshavin received the ball in the final third again, this time he had Fabregas up ahead of him on the edge of the area, Arshavin released the ball to Cesc and in his presence caused sufficient trepidation for Dunne to make the foul. Fabregas stepped up to the free kick twenty five yards from goal and he curled a beauty into the top corner to lift the roof off the stadium. Fabregas had started his run up early, giving Friedel no time to set himself. Prior to the Hull fixture last week, Arsenal hadn`t scored directly from a free kick for over two years. Those of you that reside in London will be aware of the old adage about London buses. Villa had to alter their hitherto unambitious game plan and pushed forward in search of an equaliser. A spiteful Emirates crowd, which had spent much of the game childishly urging Arsenal players to shooooooot from forty yards plus turned on Manuel Almunia when he elected to punch a Villa cross. His body language is one of a man fed up with being turned on so constantly by his own fans. The tension was palpable, everybody knew how big a victory this could turn out to be. But as Villa pushed on, Arsenal picked them off and sealed the game. Traore intercepted Milner`s poor pass before then unleashing an incredible sixty yard cross field pass to Theo Walcott, who had liberated himself from the attentions of Warnock, Fabregas careered forward into the space, Walcott delivered a sumptuously weighted pass for Cesc to run onto and steer past Brad Friedel. Our joy was slightly enervated as Fabregas grimaced and signalled to the bench that his hamstring had given out again. He was substituted to rapturous applause. He came, he saw, he conquered, he hobbled off again.

Villa nearly wrested an undeserved consolation from their only meaningful attack of the second half. Carew flicked on another Richard Dunne long ball, Agbonlahor had appeared to muscle Gallas aside, but the French defender came roaring back, impeding Agbonalhor`s shot with the underside of his studs, the ball looked to be creeping goal wards until Manuel Almunia quickly clambered to his feet and bravely thrust the ball aside with his palm with Agbonlahor closing in on the rebound. The Gunners wrapped up the result in injury time in the grand style through a very deserving goal scorer. Abou Diaby picked the ball up in the centre circle and sensed the lactic acid in Villa legs; he sauntered past three Villa players before curling an accurate low shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. It seals a great Christmas period for Diaby. Yesterday he was asked to be the foremost midfielder of the central triumvirate and was Arsenal`s biggest threat. Once Fabregas arrived onto the pitch, he was asked to sit a little deeper and did so excellently, before then being asked to move forwards once again. He performed both functions excellently. The manner of his goal was not altogether surprising; we all know his telescopic limbs are capable of jinking, slaloming runs. But what was pleasing was that he picked his moment. Ordinarily, Diaby would try to beat four players every single time he gets the ball; some times it bears fruit (sublime), whilst others it doesn`t (ridiculous). But Diaby showed something I haven`t seen from him previously- a semblance of a brain! He knew when to move forwards and when to sit back, when to hold the ball and when to release it, he played with intelligence. The turning point of Arsenal`s season might well be Arsene`s half time teacup tirade at Anfield. The turning point of Diaby`s season might well have been the sight of his manager going postal on the bench in the Spurs game, throwing down his jacket in frustration at Diaby committing forward unnecessarily.

3-0 was a monumental result and puts us straight back into the title picture. I, along with many of you, have lambasted the side for their apparent lack of mental strength, but they deserve the utmost credit for showing the resolution to pull themselves kicking and screaming back up the table. The challenge now is to maintain that hunger and consistency. Villa defended well and pressed and harried the ball, but Fabregas` willingness to run beyond a previously isolated Arshavin made all the difference. Despite some landmark victories this season, Villa played with an inferiority complex and their long ball, counter attacking game did not cut any ice. Arsenal`s midfield three of Denilson/ Fabregas, Song and Diaby asserted their physical presence and their technical game shone through. But once again, Arsenal`s biggest obstacle to glory is their injury list. Fabregas and Denilson hobbled out of the game, Song will fly to Africa today, leaving us short in midfield to add to the headache we have upfront. The miracle of the season so far is that Gallas and Vermaelen have been able to start every Premiership match and that bill of health will need to remain unblemished. The mark of Champions is to prove your credentials over and over again, Arsenal will need to continue to lay down their marker at Fratton Park on Wednesday evening.LD.

Team: 1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 30.TRAORE, 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON (4.Fabregas `57, 16.Ramsey `82), 2.DIABY, 8.NASRI, 9.EDUARDO (14.Walcott `65), 23.ARSHAVIN. Unused: 12.Vela, 18.Silvestre, 21.Fabianski, 27.Eboue.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday December 28 2009

Time: 11:02AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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I really enjoyed yesterday's game (obviously the result helps) but the way the two teams went about the match was good to see. Having Billy and Tommy ever-present at the back (so far) this year has been a god send, the defence played really well yesterday. Looking forward to going down to Fratto now!
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28/12/2009 11:20:00

Great report and many excellent observations. If Diaby gets the same amount of playing time in the 2nd half of this season he will surpass his total PL playing time for the last two seasons combined. It's that playing time that is critical to Diaby understanding his role in the team at any particular time - and therefore making the right decisions. He has shown enough recently to think that the rewards for patience with him may well be worth the earlier frustrations.
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28/12/2009 11:29:00

Great report Tim, as ever. On Diaby, I remember during the game he again tried to dribble the ball for too long and lost posession, he punched the ground in frustration at himself - this I think showed his desire to learn and to make the right decisions, and when he does it consistently he can be devastating. Great second half, Villa didn't really get a sniff.
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28/12/2009 12:02:00

This performance from Fabregas could elevate him into one of those players where the opposition fears his very presence, giving them a sense of foreboding that he will do something at some point to win the match. The rest of the team will feed off that and then, well, anything is possible. I liked the introduction of the playmaker (Fabregas) with the pace (Walcott) after Villa were lulled into a sense of security, a tactic that was probably more by necessity than design. I only hope that Eduardo keeps the faith and continues doing what he is doing because, at some point, he is going to start racking up the goals. What can I say about Diaby? I’m starting to love the guy (footballtastically, of course).
Sir Henry
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28/12/2009 12:18:00

Excellent performance yesterday and a great game for Diaby I thought! I must say, I thought Phil Dowd reffed the game pretty well yesterday too letting the game flow and not being flash with the yellow cards. Good match report too LD. Haven't commented much recently, but I still very much enjoy reading the articles 8-)
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28/12/2009 12:25:00

Kinda feel for diaby this morning, he had the game of his life and was probably our best player yesterday but Cesc gets all the headlines LOL. I mentioned it yesterday but have to say it again I just love the emotion on Cesc's face when he scored almost looked like he was going to break down into tears! And correct me if I'm wrong but I thought we had Song for another 10 days?
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28/12/2009 12:48:00

You have to say that it was a good team performance all-round. Gallas and Vermaelen were great. And Theo's through-ball was just fantastic, great to see he has that ability. It was such a perfect result. I was at the game and thought the atmosphere was relatively muted given the importance of the game, maybe it was just where I was sitting. Losing Song and now possibly Denilson and Cesc through injury is a critical point in the season you feel. May force Wenger's hand.
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28/12/2009 12:57:00

I still find it hard to say where Diaby fits in other than a replacement for Fabregas and the middle midfielder in games where we look like dominating.
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28/12/2009 13:02:00

Good spot on Diaby's intelligence, the only thing lacking in him. The lad's got tremendous ability and no one doubted that, and he seems to have corrected his judgment -lets hope it is permanent, coz he needs to play a crucial role when Song is gone and Denilson is injured. It was a very good performance, but our season will be decided by how well we cope with our injuries. I think we will definitely see atleast 1-2 signings in Jan - lets hope Wenger gets it done quickly.
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28/12/2009 15:03:00

Great read LD (tbph you could have written cr@p and we'd still have loved it lol, just kidding)! And Football365 did make the observation about Arshavin asking the ref not to book Dunne and the Petrov thing afterwards. Most of those conclusions they draw from the game are fair points too. Now please let's give our 100% against Pompey.
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28/12/2009 15:10:00

Does anyone know when Song leaves? I was under the impression we'd have him for the Portsmouth game?
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28/12/2009 16:21:00

I think you are right gk, in his post match interview Song was asked when he was leaving for the ANC and he said he has two more matches.
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28/12/2009 16:34:00

Fantastic game, great write-up. But here's a rant: what the hell is this hysterical media gushing over Rooney and Utd's defeat of HULL as if it was an achievement equal to beating the 4th place team? We beat Hull last week and got no media attention for it at all, despite 3 great goals. You'd think Utd and Rooney beat the European champions, ffs! Skysports profiled Rooney and Cesc as the two men of the weekend -- they talked about Rooney as if he'd slayed a dragon. But they did provide some interesting statistical comparisons between the 2 players. Cesc v. Villa - played 27 mins, scored 2 goals, 0 assists, 3 key passes and 92% pass completion. Rooney v. Hull played 90 mins, scored 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 key passes and 64% pass completion. In the PL this season, Cesc has played 16 games, scored 9 goals and made 12 assists. Rooney played 18 games, scored 13 goals and made 2 assists.
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28/12/2009 16:40:00

This win was particularly satisfying as the commentators would not stop drooling all over the villa players
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28/12/2009 16:40:00

What really has me worried is our schedule without Song. Where is the replacement Wenger!
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28/12/2009 16:53:00

TP, it was disgusting listening to the commentators make no effort in hiding their pro-Villa bias. They all clearly wanted Villa to trounce Arsenal and came up with every cliche about Arsenal's game, ignoring so much of what was actually going on in the game--as well as ignoring Villa's obvious weaknesses.
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28/12/2009 17:05:00

I want us to sign Dzeko, not because he is a bloody good player, but instead because he is tall. I'm tired of hearing commentators say Arshavin is short and Arsenal don't have big striker.
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28/12/2009 17:13:00

Song leaves after the game against West Ham; at least, I read it somewhere that his National team coach allowed that. The rules require clubsides to release players for International Tournaments, at least, 14 days before the start of the tourney and Camerron dont play till a few days after the ACN starts. Replacement? With Denilson out again, that will be tough one to hazard a guess on. LD, it will be nice to do a retake on the write ups, done on this site, at the start of the season about the players (Theo, Eboue, Diaby.....) who needed to step it up a gear (forgotten the caption, now). It will be good reading, going over some of the expectations from these players and how they panned out at the end of the season; hopefully, we shall be celebrating some trophy(ies) by that time.
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28/12/2009 17:18:00

Jaelle, I wouldn't worry about the views of the commentators. We have made similar observations so many times in the past that it will be a pleasure to make them, all, eat their words at the end of this season.Chelsea got lucky today; a draw will have been a fair result VS Fulham on the balance of play, imo. The loss of Drogba & co could be massive for Chelsea and other teams must be taking note.
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28/12/2009 17:22:00

It was exactly the kind of convincing performance and result I've been wanting Arsenal to put in for ages. Apparently, Richard Keys on Sky Sports said after the game whether it was important for Arsenal's chase for 4th place! What an absolute t-w-a-t! We're definitely going to need a striker and midfielder in my opinion. Despite his bad history with Arsenal, I think Ruud van Nistelrooy could be a good signing for us.
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28/12/2009 19:33:00

I think Denilson would have easily replaced Song, but he is injured. i think we will sign a midfielder on loan, with a striker and maybe a center back coming in. Carlton Cole would be my striker, but he is currently injured.
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28/12/2009 23:04:00

Excellent game to watch, although in a different enviroment (it didn't drop below 35 degrees over Christmas in West Australia) i garethered my only fellow Arsenal supporting friend and screamed and yelled at the TV, then loudly declaring my man-love for Cesc Fabregas with beer spilling all over my couch ...what a night. I'm gonna put it out there, but Thomas Vermaelen in my opinion is the best Centre Back in the league right now.
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29/12/2009 01:18:00

Yeah I wouldn't mind seeing Carlton Cole being signed either, have been very impressed with his performances this season. I think Wenger will probably look abroad for a striker as he will get better value for money there.
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29/12/2009 01:22:00

When's Bendtner coming back? Eduardo seems to have gotten his curse.
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29/12/2009 01:28:00

we have cover in midfield with ramsey, vela and theo for denilson and cesc. i think they can step in and do a decent enough job for the month of january. diaby is on fire, and i think he can cover for song. my hope is for eddy to get his groove back soon. but we're hitting form, make no mistake, while the likes of chelski and utd are continually tripping up. drogba will be a huge miss for the blues, and they will drop more points. if we keep capitalising, we will get 4th place? no richard keys, we will get the bloomin championship u 7osser!
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29/12/2009 01:59:00

Eddy is getting there, slowly! I still have mass trust in him, i mean he's getting some mean touches and turns, it's just his lethal finishing he needs to get back on top off then he'll be as deadly as he was before. I can't agree with Carlton Cole, he's the same player as Adebayor ...we may aswell have kept Ade? They're a solo forward player, we need someone who can come back and create play like RVP, not just hang around up front, it's not how Arsenal roll.
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29/12/2009 05:10:00

P.S. Bedtner return is not the answer to our frontman crisis, Bedtner will never be able to do what RVP was doing earlier this season.
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29/12/2009 05:11:00

Chamakh, would be Arsenal's best bet, but I cannot see him leave Bordeaux now.
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29/12/2009 06:06:00

NG, the series was called 'It's Going To Be A Big Season For...' I'll try and dig them out later, but I did do one for Diaby.
Little Dutch
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29/12/2009 10:01:00

Yeh you did, i remember laughing at the "too ugly to be in a boyband" comment and the picture you had up of him he looked like one of the dopiest mother*****ers in the premierleague
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29/12/2009 10:04:00

Think it's worth mentioning Song's dive as well! That is one thing he's not supposed to be getting booked for ;)
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29/12/2009 10:17:00

Yep, LD! That's it!! Please dig them up and keep them warm for the end of season. Fuikaka, almost everyone on the forum had a comment for Diaby (including stuff like: "what does Wenger see in him"? "why won't he sell him and buy.."?, etc.). I feel we can all look back on that series and have a laugh about what 'great' pundits we have been. Hey! Who can say that those comments didn't help the guys get better?
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29/12/2009 17:21:00

I know it's a bit mad, but the players I'd love to see in the transfer window are all old boys. Flamini, Henry and Upson.
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29/12/2009 18:32:00

Yes, that is totally mad. I would be disappointed if any one of those players came back and I'm certain they won't.
Little Dutch
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29/12/2009 19:38:00

I were thinking more along the lines of a short term solution as far as Henry is concerned so as not to kill the kids. In short, Upson in for Senderos and Flamini as DM cover for Song which would also enable Song to cover as the fourth choice centre back should any of the brick wall (TV/WG) get injured. That would also allow us to release baked bean too. I know he tries but I just can't bring myself to love him. You're right though, none of the above will happen. I'm just playing Championship Manager out loud. If I'd had an extra 5m in the bank I'd have gone for Bramble and Akinbiyi 8-)
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29/12/2009 22:55:00

Expensive and injury prone cover? ...No thanks! NG ...still not eating my words about Diaby, he's gotta be able to keep this form up. 3 good games don't make up for the 13 bad one's (some terrible) from the start of the season. I won't deny he's looking a lot better and as an Arsenal player i hope he travels only in 1 direction, upwards! But i'm not holding my breath ...just yet.
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30/12/2009 02:07:00

Expensive and injury prone? I don't think any new player comes with a non-injury guarantee, afterall who knows when the next Dan Smith or Matt Taylor are lurking just around the corner. I'm with you on Diaby though. I really do hope he keeps up the good form.
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30/12/2009 12:35:00


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