Arsenal have had really meaningful games against teams like Villa before but it is usually important in a battle against one of the other big 3 rather than the actual team we were facing. This was not the case this time as we were tangling with a sprightly, confident Villa side who defeated us 2-0 recently in an alarmingly comfortable manner.
Martin O Neil’s men have gone into this season with a relentless desire for points and Arsenals inconsistencies and problems in and out of the treatment room have given them a shot at the coveted 4th Champions League shot. As it stood Arsenal were 3 points behind the villians and in full knowledge that the other big 3 had won, arsenal knew they had to win to keep their title hopes alive.
As well as a recent dreadful injury to newly baptised captain Cesc Fabregas and also other notable injuries, top hitman Emmanuel Adebayor wa suspended after his red card against Liverpool last sunday. This forced Wenger into creating a 4-5-1 formation to tackle a pretty much fully fit Villa team, with RVP leading the line.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, Toure, Eboue, Denilson, Song, Diaby, Nasri, RVP
Aston Villa: Freidel, Reo-Cocker, Davies, L Young, Knight, Milner, Sidwell, Barry, A Young, Petrov, Agbonlahor
It was a truely awesome game, 4 goals seems lightweight after watching the match in it’s entirety, it was action packed and neutrals as well as fans of both team and viewing rival fans would have been thoroughly absorbed by it.
The game kicked off and the Villa bombardment begun. One thing that we have seen from Martin O Neil, even from his Leicester days is his ability to motivate a team and he had motivated this team to play at 150% and that is a dangerous thing when you have a team as talented as his current lot.
Early on Agbonhlahor and Milner started running riot and won a corner for the home team. The corner was swung in by Barry and was headed viciously onto the bar by Sidwell who smiled at his bit of bad luck. Soon after Curtis Davis had a fantastic opportunity from a free header after a cross from the left but he amazingly headed it well wide when on target looked easier.
The pressure from Villa was intense but Arsenal managed to get a break and some good work from Sagna and Diaby put Van Persie through into the box with a lofted through ball. It was a great angle to shoot from and with his recent form you would have bet on him to score but Zat Knight got the ball first and cleared it to safety.
Some fabulous interplay down the right led to Agbonlahor being fouled and a dangerous free kick given. The free kick was easily cleared but only into the path of Luke Young whose shot was deflected off a defender and looped towards goal, forcing Almunia to perform an acrobatic save.
Agbonlahor was played in down the left and cut in for a shot Thierry Henry style and it was blocked by Almunia right into the patch of Sidwell who seemed certain to score but Gallas had other ideas and deflected his shot for a corner. More pressure for Arsenal came when a great cross in fell to James Milner unmarked at the back post and his shot beat Almunia, however it didn’t beat the post and it bounced back into the relieved Spaniards arms.
The woodwork came into play again when another brilliant ball gave a half volley chance to Curtis Davis but his arcing technical shot rebounded off the bar and back out of the area.
This was a bombardment, an absolute bombardment, i have never seen Arsenal dominated so much in terms of a team relentlessly attacking us and looking so dangerous. It should have been 3 or 4-0 at this point and it was amazing that the gunners had managed to get to the 40 minute mark unscathed after the onslaught.
Then something happened which shocked the footballing world, Arsenal scored, i say this because it was one of the most against the run of play goals ever, completely and untterly undeserved and i am sure all gunners fans couldn’t believe their luck.
Denilson had the ball in a bit of space on the 35 yeard mark and passed it in Diaby for a 1-2. Nigel Reo Cocker intercepted the ball but his defensive bumbling meant Denilson robbed the ball back from him and burst into the area concluding in a neat finish past Freidel.
The Villa fans reacted like he had handballed the ball in or something of that sort. they were disgusted and the fans behind the goal showed their discontent. The arsenal fans went beserk though and Denilson looked as mystified as anyone that Arsenal had managed to take the lead in this tie.
Immediately Villa hit back with a great cross onto the head of Agbonlahor which beat Almunia who had come off his line. The ball looked destined to drop into the net when Sagna pulled off one of the greatest goalline clearences of all time and hooked the ball off the line from a very difficult height. Sagna it should be emphasised had a phenomenal game, probably his best for the gunners, he was simply outstanding and my man of the match in a match bundled with great performances.
Half time went and the Villa players looked shellshocked at being behind after such a dominating performance. The fans no doubt felt the same. They hit the woodwork 3 times and created quite a few other clear chances yet no goals, we are unlikely to see such bad luck all season.
Villa looked just a shellshocked as the second half began and 3 minutes in Villa looked utterly deflated when Abou Diaby thundered in Arsenal’s second goal. It was wonderful work from Diaby and Eboue, Diaby’s great flick and throughball set Eboue into acres of space in the Villa half and Abou followed in behind him. Curtis Davis came to meet Eboue outside the box and he flicked the ball through to the following Diaby who bore down on Freidel and lifted the ball into the back of the net.
Diaby slapped the corner flag and jumped into the crowd which earnt him a yellow card but i am sure every gooner felt as he did, it was a truely wonderful goal and had put Arsenal into a position they never would have dreamed possible after the first half an hour.
Suddenly it was all arsenal. Arsenal started to dominate like Villa did in the first and the game looked as lost for Villa as it did for the gunners previously. The only downside to this spell was an injury to Alexandre Song which led to Welsh wizzkid coming on in his place.
Diaby and Ramsey did a delightful 1-2 in the box and Diany squared it into the path of Denilson who missed the ball in a wild airshot. However that didn’t stop Van Persie getting his chance for a shot and his finish racketed of the post and into the feet of 2 arsenal players by the penalty spot. The two players were Denilson and RVP and they bumbled a bit which gave the Villa defence the chance to block RVP’s follow up shot. It was domination Arsenal who should have put it out of sight.
Arsenal dominated for the next 10 minute until everything changed when Gallas foolishly brought down Agbonlahor in the box for a clear penalty. Agbonlahor had run onto a neat through ball and without being in an immediately dangerous position Gallas slid in from behind and tripped him. If anything is to blame for not winning then it is this. I am not an anti-Gallas fan but i have to admit that this foolish decision from an experienced player really cost us.
The penalty was put in by Barry and now the pendulum swung back and Villa had the momentum. Wenger was incensed about the penalty and had words to say about it but in truth it was blatant and the only person worth shouting at was Gallas.
Villa knocked and knocked and Arsenal looked like they could contain them but on the 90th minute a cross in from the right was headed across the box and intercepted by Sagna but the ball was hit back to Zat Knight who had an opportunity to shoot. He took a left foot shot and it went into the corner past Almunia.
The Villa players and fans went absolutely crazy as they nicked a draw in a game they should have both easily won and easily lost, completely crazy a real one of a kind match. They looked the most likely to score in the 4 remaining minutes of injury time but in the end it finished all square and honours even at Villa park.
I really don’t know how to conclude the match report, we should have been trounced, yet should have won by a clear margin too. We were genuinely robbed of a win in the last minute of a game where it was robbery for the home team not to win themselves. Maybe it was a fair result but both sides have their grievances and can’t believe they didn’t win.
Ultimately the result favoured Villa who stay 3 points ahead and were it not for solid keeping by Almunia and an epic performance by Sagna they would have a much bigger margin.
As for arsenal twe are still in the chase but we must must must must start to close out games, especially when we have more than a 1 goal lead. We are in real hard times at the moment and this game may have rocked things even more but i hope we take solace from the fact that we were bombarded like that and didn’t lose. Regardless of the fact we blew a 2 goal lead, we were stern and resolute enough to weather that category 5 hurricane that was threw at us in the first half and that is a very positive thing.
Portsmouth come to the Emirates now after a big loss at home to West Ham, Arsenal legend Tony Adams is at the helma and i know the Gunners are going to give him a warm welcome. In terms of the points though Arsenal have to claim all 3, no special treatment for the Skipper, we desperately need them and i pray to the powers that be that we get them.