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Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 4

The last time that Arsenal kicked off an away match at 3pm on a Saturday was at Birmingham City on March 31st. As it stands, our next chance for the staple Saturday kick off time will be away at Newcastle on February 5th, but the colossal colostomy bags at Sky have yet to do their meddling from January 31st onwards we could be made to wait longer still. When you travel to every away match, relatively short distances like Villa are something of a blessing- just near enough to London so your day is not overly lopsided. But in moving this fixture to a lunchtime kick off, the alarm was once again set for 5am, just in time for the first tube as South West London was covered in a blanket of thick frost. The coach departure was so early that the greasy spoon wasn`t even open, so I had to settle on one of those greasy American burger chain breakfasts on Holloway Road, huddling inside its garish neon lights for warmth, like a moth batting its head against a lampshade.

As we ventured to the Midlands, the carpet of frost gave way to a blanket of snow as we passed the Watford Gap, we did well to steer clear of talking about the traumas of our last two fixtures and pretty much everyone was confident of an Arsenal victory. Inside the ground, much like the first flower of spring, the sign that a chilling winter was well and truly upon us was signposted by the first Bovril of the season, purchased in a corridor next to the away seating that is so narrow, Tom Huddlestone would need to be air lifted out of it. How on earth Villa Park has a safety certificate is beyond me, in any genuine emergency evacuation procedure, we would all be utterly doomed. A collective swoon was held in the away end with the return of Robert Pires, but the atmosphere was generally eerily quiet, as it usually is for lunchtime kick offs. When people journey from their beds straight to their seats without the merciful build up of the pub, one tends to find a moribund atmosphere.

The home support was given little recourse to stir its voices either as an Arshavin inspired Arsenal kept the home side firmly rocking back on its haunches. (Arshavin completed 12 of his 15 attempted dribbles yesterday without being dispossessed). It took as little as thirty seconds for Brad Friedel to be called into action as Stephen Warnock played a loose ball on the edge of his own area, Arshavin seized upon it and played in Chamakh, but Friedel was out swiftly to smother. Villa were looking punch drunk as Arshavin again weaved inside to create mischief, stabbing a through ball to Tomas Rosicky who scuffed his shot wide when he had time and space. He is playing very well, but you get the impression he needs a goal. Villa created but one solitary opening of their own when Downing cut inside Clichy on the left and saw his cross flicked on by Carew, only for a ludicrously offside Ashley Young to sky his chance with the linesman apparently not really paying attention. But that errant attack aside, it was smooth sailing for the away side and it was almost lamentable that it took them as much as 39 minutes to take the lead. Collins and Young comically collided as Fabianski`s punt was steered out to the left, the ball was left to drift through to Arshavin who displayed the incisiveness and penetration our play had been missing as he made a beeline for goal, feinted his way past Dunne and steered his shot into the bottom corner.

The away support laid siege on the taciturn home support with a quite amusing cry of "Just like the Emirates." The team were likewise toying with their opposition, Chamakh and Arshavin played a neat one two, before Arshavin released an inch perfect through ball to Samir Nasri, who danced round Friedel but delayed his shot a millisecond too long, striking off balance and hitting the side netting. His chance against Spurs last week had been more difficult. Arshavin was once again at the hub of Villa`s dismay when he turned a clever pass to Sagna on the right, the right back clipped in an inch perfect cross to Chamakh, who rose above Collins only to be denied from close range by Friedel`s paws. But from the resulting corner, Arshavin looked up and clipped the ball to the edge of the box, where Samir Nasri was on hand to hit a sweet first time volley into the net, via the slightest of deflections from the studs of Luke Young. Arshavin`s tenth assist in all competitions this season. Half time and we all slumped back into our seats content that Arsenal never throw away this kind of lead and that we`d more than likely go on to win seven or eight nil..........

Gerard Houllier flicked through his big book of, "What the hell did Spurs do to wriggle out of this position last week" and surmised that the "take off ineffective and off pace midfielder for quick, wiry striker" recipe might be the best broth. So Pires departed and Nathan Delfouneso entered the fray. Villa erred only slightly from the recommended Redknapp recipe as they waited until the 52nd minute to put a grumbling into Gooner stomachs. Barry Bannan swung in a hopeful cross which Squillaci headed half clear, to the edge of the box where Ciaran Clark chested the ball down. Clichy momentarily thought he would try and block the shot, but instead decided, "you know, this game`s been a bit too easy and I feel it is unfair on Villa, sod it, there`s the red carpet son, fill yer boots." So Clichy politely retreated and Clark took up the invitation to shoot, curling his volley into the top corner. As he wheeled away in celebration, Squillaci gave Clichy and Rosicky, who also stood and watched this slow motion goal completely motionless, the mother of all earfuls. Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs might well have given his manager a wee nudge down on the bench.

But the Gunners uncharacteristically moved to quell nerves just four minutes later. Arshavin started the move once again, finding Rosicky in space, the Czech looked up and pushed the ball into the path of Marouane Chamakh, who toe poked the ball under the advancing Friedel. The first murmurs of "we are top of the league" emerged from a cocky few, until a well timed, "Ssssshhhhhh!" from about 1,900 others, including me, put the people that apparently don`t watch Arsenal all that often in their places. Arsenal had chances to kill the game completely but were too busy prancing around the area in "let`s fanny about" mode. At one point, Nasri had a clear shot inside the area, but thought one more shimmy and flick was necessary before trying to pass to a heavily marked team mate. Arshavin`s goal should have been instructive to him. Clark missed from close range as Arsenal were warned, but sure enough, the dilly dallying cost us as Villa threatened to make a game of it once again. Ashley Young pulled his corner back to the edge of the box, Richard Dunne won the first looping header, as the ball sailed into the danger zone, Squillaci lost his man and Ciaran Clarke glanced the ball into the net via the underside of the bar. At this point, you could sense the nerves from the players and from the stands too. Villa subsequently created very little, but opposing teams don`t especially need to create a great deal against us to score.

For the first time I can remember, Arsene made some defensive substitutions with Gibbs and Denilson replacing Arshavin and Nasri. But Villa couldn`t make their pressure count and the Gunners broke away to seal the result in injury time. Rosicky released Chamakh in the area; he pulled the ball back to Denilson, whose shot was charged down by Collins. The rebound fell to Chamakh who controlled the ball and showed great presence of mind to lob it to the back post where Jack Wilshere was on hand to head his first Arsenal league goal into an empty net. Game over, and this time we did sing "We are top of the league" with gusto. Well, we were top until Allardici`s gross 90 minute love letter to Ferguson allowed United to easily reclaim top spot. Only Arsenal can go and win their fifth consecutive away match to go top of the table and still leave you with more questions than answers. With the exception of the 6-0 wins over Braga and Blackpool, I thought this was the poorest opposition I had seen us face this season. The game should have been well out of reach by half time and in fairness, we capitalised on just how bereft Villa were of inspiration. Yet, we still made large chunks of the second half nail chewingly tense and conceded two stupid goals to Villa`s only real chances of the game. That sense of imminent self destruction lingers even in our easiest game. Gael Clichy`s brain farts are coming more frequently and closer together than ever before and the attack is not immune, at 3-1, they elect for some kind of narcissistic goal of the season competition instead of just getting the ball in the net and getting the game finished. It seems churlish to criticise, as mentioned, our away record is superb and that was Villa`s first home defeat of the season. We played well and won by two goals. Arshavin was electric, Nasri was very good once again, Song and Wilshere had their best games in some time. Maybe there was an element of last week playing on their minds, but really, the second half should have been a comfortable stroll, Villa offered little or nothing but it was enough to get them back in the game. Still, the win was a psychological lift and hopefully, having successfully repelled the opposition when clawed back to 2-1 will help our nerves. But at the moment, I`m struggling to recall the last Arsenal game I really sat back and enjoyed.LD.

21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE, 7.ROSICKY(c) (20.Djourou '90+3), 8.NASRI (15.Denilson `85), 23.ARSHAVIN (28.Gibbs `85), 29.CHAMAKH. Unused; 10.v.Persie, 14.Walcott, 52.Bendtner, 53.Szczesny.

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

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday November 28 2010

Time: 1:05PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Agreed LD, everytime i lose my fingernails watching them play. Guess I'll lose a bit more till the season ends.
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28/11/2010 14:34:00

Totally agree with everything you say. Yes, we won, but seeing Arsenal make the same mistakes again and again doesn't exactly fill me with confidence for the rest of the season. I also noticed that period in the second half when we were 3-1 up and the players were just fannying around in cruise mode. Just put the ball in the back of the net and get 3-4 goals up before you do that ffs! On the plus side, it was good to see the team's passing game was still there despite Cesc's absence and the Rosicky-Song-Wilshere midfield worked well I thought. I'd also prefer to see Djourou at centre-half because he adds height to our team. I don't really see the difference that Koscielny to retain his place as first-choice, but that could be my untrained eye.
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28/11/2010 14:36:00

Great account LD, much as I remembered it. We seem to stop playing with a 2 goal cussion. We done it twice yesterday, rather than build on the momentum. It's so frustrating! I thought, as well as Arshavin, Wilshere was impeccable yesterday.
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28/11/2010 14:38:00

The away support was sensational.
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28/11/2010 14:57:00

TBH, I dont think Clichy was at fault for the first goal. He had to cover (young was it?) also, If he had comitted , Clark would have found him. I guess Rosicky should have closed down Clark, rather than Clichy.
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28/11/2010 16:01:00

The Villa goal should never have been allowed in the first place with Carew standing offside in front of Flappy. But regardless of that I never watch Arsenal these days without cursing the profligacy of our strikers.
Wyn Mills
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28/11/2010 18:14:00

I thought it was of extreme importance to win after being clawed back to 2-1 as these things play on the mind and could become a factor in every game we play, afterwards. Hopefully, that monkey is off our backs now. Wenger's decision to replace wingers with defensive players was critical as it sent the message to the players, he just wanted the 3 points so they quelled the defensive frailties; we still had enough to hit Villa on the break, even then. Seeing as he was so sharp, Arshavin should be played sparingly, maybe once a week, especially as we enter a very crucial month in December. We would need Vermaleen and Diaby back; who's to know when they return?
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28/11/2010 19:45:00

"Tom Huddlestone would need to be air lifted out of it." I saw what you did there, LD.
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28/11/2010 19:50:00

"I noticed my team-mate was lonely and looked bored, so I decided to cheer up him." Arshavin on his assist for Nasri, haha
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28/11/2010 20:27:00

I agree with Sajit, if Clichy closes down and Clarke passes to young then Clichy gets blamed for not covering his man. It was a no win situation really. Also the linesman or the ref should've given offside for Carews blatant blocking of Fabianski's view. The most impressive part of attack yesterday was the interchanging of positions. Rosicky and Arshavin in particular did that extremely well. I'd like to see more of that because it brought out the best of Arshavin.
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28/11/2010 22:30:00

Maybe a bit hard on Clichy the first goal but the second. Why do they retreat and allow the other side to get to the edge of the box and suddenly think I'll wait till they shoot and see if someone else can stop it. How many times Clichy did that I dont know.
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29/11/2010 08:27:00

Clark was always lining up the shot. The thing is, if Clichy thought he needed to stick with Young, then he needs to stay put and communicate with his defenders. As it happened, he took a step forward, then retreated. You can see that both Kos and Squillaci reacted at that point, but it was too late because Clichy got caught in two minds and didn't open his trap to talk to anyone. He just had a little wander basically and ended up neither blocking the shot nor marking Young. Once he's committed to close Clark down he has to follow it through and the way the ball sat up he was only ever going to strike it. I've stuck up for Clichy a lot this last year, but that was pure Sunday league stuff.
Little Dutch
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29/11/2010 08:45:00

I agree that we absolutely tore Villa apart first half, and should have made more of it, but I can't say I was completely upset with the performance. Villa really did come out and challenge us as the start of the second half, and the boys actually responded well for a change...that said, the game felt effectively over when chamakh knocked that goal in, but for another arsenal brain snap... I found it a really enjoyable game, but I very rarely can sit back and enjoy a performance unless we are 4 goals up... sagna was also brilliant btw...
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29/11/2010 13:53:00

Have to say I continue to be amazed at Wilshere's progress this season. The lad is only 18 and beginning to dictate play like Fabregas. He's built like a brick-***** house and has that 'over my dead body' attitude I think some of the others could learn from. Mightly impressed by not only his skill but his composure. An Arsenal legend in the making without a doubt.
Wyn Mills
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29/11/2010 14:17:00

It's not always easy to point the finger at anyone player in these defensive errors. Should Clichy have closed the player down and left Young unmarked for the first goal? Was Song not out early enough in the move? What was Rosicky doing just standing and watching Clark? We tend to judge these things on a man for man basis but even if we're playing zonally we hadn't recovered or covered positions in more than one case. It was a pretty decent performance though. Rosicky could do with a goal but it'll come. He's playing beautifully at the moment.
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29/11/2010 14:24:00

Great screen shot of the 1st villa goal here I think its really harsh to blame Clichy when you see the positions of Song, Wilshere and Rosicky.
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29/11/2010 16:29:00

I thought Chamakh was outstanding, one goal and one assist. I think our play is pretty good without Fabregas so when he goes I’m not going to be overly concerned. The freedom of Wilshere, Rosicky and Nasri was great to watch and with Arshavin buzzing around we looked a potent attacking force. I like the idea of Gibbs in front of Clichy to give the left side a bit more defensive muscle but still have some attacking options with the pace of Gibbs. Clichy is involved in too many lapses, or as LD puts it; brain farts and I think opponents target him because they see him as a weak link, and also the fact that Arshavin doesn’t do defence so there is normally a lot of space on the left. Great win but our leaky defence will be our downfall (again) this season. We could do without playing the ref as well. Villa’s first goal was offside for sure. Incidentally, against Braga, had you bribed the ref to throw the game in favour of Braga you would have felt that you got value for money wouldn’t you.
Sir Henry
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29/11/2010 17:52:00

I think Clichy retreated on the 1st villa goal because he had to cover a pass to the villa player on his outside.. So i can't really blame him there.. hindsight is a beautiful thing. Did anybody catch Gerard Houllier's hilarious comment after the game? he said:'We didnt play well 1st half but if you took the last goal Arsenal scored we actually won the second half 2-1'.... Fool...
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29/11/2010 17:58:00

O.T. That was some game, the El Classico. A spiritual experience for the self-styled special one, indeed. One in humility.
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29/11/2010 22:06:00

Sir Henry, let's not start bigging-up the team, without Cesc, just after one game. We all agree he is the person who makes our team play their best game, when on song. Besides, even if he may still leave, it's best we keep him valuable so he doesn't leave on the cheap. Hey! We wouldn't wish to look back longingly at that 29m now, would we?
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29/11/2010 22:15:00

Wow...watching Barcelona destroy Madrid tonight was simply breathtaking. We have a long way to go.
Wyn Mills
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29/11/2010 23:51:00

Alright I dont like JM. But how can anyone do anything other than loathe a team that contains Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Valdes, Biscuits and Dani Alves. Grade A ****s.
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30/11/2010 03:41:00

And Puyol had that coming, I tell you. Right from the CL final 06, he had that coming. He is just a ******** ******.
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30/11/2010 03:57:00

Barcelona may have some classless players and cocks for management but they play football in one of the purest ways imaginable. Mourinho is a smart and devious Rent Boy who goes to the richest team with the most resources in any league. Dont like Barcelona but happy they trounced the Mediawhore.
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30/11/2010 06:01:00

B4 the game, CR7 had said: "I think God sent me to earth to show how football shd be played". Messi replied: "I didn't send anyone". Brilliant!
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30/11/2010 06:45:00


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