Arsenal 3 – 2 Aston Villa
0 – 1 Dunne (33)
0 – 2 Bent (45)
1 – 2 van Persie (54 pen)
2 – 2 Walcott (57)
3 – 2 van Persie (61 pen)
Three goals in seven minutes gave Arsenal a deserved victory, recovering a deficit that was the result of defending as weak and insipid as the beer proferred by the competition’s sponsors. It is all being overshadowed by a wayward elbow from Robin van Persie on Carlos Cuellar bringing forth a typically overstated reaction from Alex McLeish after the match. Whether the FA decide to investigate will become clearer today.
They might like to look into why Richard Dunne was still allowed to be on the pitch as well. Refereeing standards continue to plummet when the Irish defender, having been booked already for a foul on Rosicky in the first half, was not booked for a blatant scything of Ramsey in the second. That is not to excuse van Persie but McLeish might like to keep his head down when it comes to inadequcies in the officiating.
That Villa were two goals to the good is leading to the usual distorted criticism of Lukasz Fabianski. He is not the best goalkeeper at the club, granted, and at times he does leave you screwing your eyes tightly shut with all digits crossed; he was not to blame for either of the goals though. The first was the expected lacksadaisical defending from a corner. Ramsey was overloaded on the flank, Keane delivered the cross for Dunne to outmuscle a cluster of players and bury the header.
The second came as Arsenal pushed for an equaliser before half-time, Villa broke swiftly with Bent set free on the right of the area. Fabianski made a fine save, parrying the ball wide only for the Villa striker to score from an acute angle. Neither goals were the result of goalkeeping errors and the criticism is unwarranted.
That Arsenal were two down was baffling to some extent. It suggests a poverty of performance in keeping with those in the Premier League recently. Whilst not entirely true, Arsenal did struggle at times to break through the nullifying tactics of their opponents. Villa ensured that space and time was at premium, pressing Arsenal when in possession.
The first opportunity came from a setplay when Vermaelen slammed his a freekick from range toward the top corner, Given turning the ball over. The standard of Arsenal set-pieces is baffling poor. The delivery is more often than not, abysmal. Freekicks regularly fail to clear the wall and when they do, they clear the bar comfortably. As for corners, little wonder we struggle to defend them as I doubt a decent one has been put in at London Colney for a number of seasons. Certainly they are rare enough at The Emirates for Bill Oddie to be overly excited by ones arrival.
Theo Walcott threatened fleetingly in the first half with sporadic forays in the Villa half whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain probed on the left effectively. The youngster went close with a Vermaelen-esque effort close to the interval whilst Rosicky was hinting at yesteryears with his passing, causing Given momentary heart palpitations as he fumbled the Czech’s shot.
The second half was barely ten minutes old when Villa’s world turned on its head. Ramsey was fed by Song and the Welshman darted into the area, unceremoniously pummelled to Earth by Dunne. As Given dived to his left, van Persie’s spot kick flew to the right corner.
Wind was in the Arsenal sail and minutes later; Walcott pranced and danced his way to the bye-line, smuggled a shot past Given but Hutton’s goalline clearance thundered into the net off Walcott. No hint of shame or embarrassment as Walcott wheeled away as if scoring the Goal of the Season. It was not but does that matter?
Within three minutes, the deficit was overhauled. Koscielny adopted the Krol philosophy, elegantly moving through the Villa half and having taken a return pass, was removed from the attacking equation by a clumsy Bent challenge. Given guessed right; the ball flew left. Given guessed wrong.
Few clear chances came afterwards, the best to Walcott but once more he spurned the opening. Clark, for Villa, directed their best moment into the grateful arms of Fabianski.
The reward for victory is a trip to the North East, Sunderland or Middlesbrough await with neither holding any fear. Whilst this victory is no guarantee that the corner has been turned, it was certainly welcome. Overall, the performance hinted that nerves are being overcome and Walcott’s equaliser is certainly a suggestion that Lady Luck has had enough of the misery her absence has caused.
With Sagna, Arteta and to a lesser extent Henry, returning to the bench that is a more important aspect of yesterday. If injuries can be curtailed then overhauling the points deficit is not an overwhelming prospect. The trip to Bolton on Wednesday is not an easy game; they are fighting for their Premier League life. This win gives a bit more grounding to that optimism.