Arsenal needed heroes. Arshavin and Chamakh answered the call with great support from Nasri and Rosicky. I think in terms of moving the ball and creating chances, this game was amongst the best we have played so far this season. As I’d mentioned earlier, the injury to Cesc looks like a blessing in disguise.
The first half was all Arsenal. Villa had a solitary half-chance at the back post and even that might have been offside. The home side tried playing the ball out from defence and just couldn’t do it. O’Neill has left them in such a poor state that Houllier will need a great deal of time and patience to change their style. I’m not complaining because that made it easy for Arsenal to dominate the play.
Arsenal could have scored four or more in the first half. Rosicky was a little short of confidence and composure in the box and Nasri missed an open net. Thankfully, Arshavin had his shooting boots on and we got the bit of luck that we needed.
The first goal came when a clearance from the back was completely missed by Luke Young and Collins as the Villa defenders got in each other’s way. Arshavin picked the ball on the left and was able to charge at the goal. The Russian magician dropped his shoulder to create half a yard of space and smashed his shot that went in between the legs of the defender and despite a touch by the Keeper.
I wonder how people would have reacted if an Arsenal Keeper got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out. But that’s a thought for some other day.
The second one came from a bit of creativity on a set-piece. Yes! At long last we did see some variation on a corner even if it was a simple one. Arshavin lobbed the ball deep towards the edge of the box and Nasri got his volley on target. It went in off a deflection but the goal was well deserved.
2-0 lead at half-time, chance to go top of the league, Villa had to get a goal. They got it but only because of some sloppy play by the midfield and a howler by the linesman and the ref. Carew was offside and right in front of Fabianski when Clark shot towards goal.
Ideally, if I know the rules right, the linesman should have raised his flag. He had no way of knowing whether Carew was interfering with play or not. The ref would then have to decide based on his position. Why the flag never came I do not know.
Surprisingly, the Arsenal players were more interested in expressing their disappointment and frustration rather than being alert to the offside. Even the Keeper, who was clearly impeded, didn’t complain to the linesman. Disappointing.
I think that was down to the fact that they’ve been under pressure for far too long and it’s difficult for them to keep their focus at such a time. Should they’ve received a shout from the bench? I’m not sure because a delayed appeal is not likely to have much impact. I would love to see such a goal being given against United.
It didn’t matter much because this time Arsenal had the perfect response to the goal. Arshavin collected the ball on the flank at the halfway line. He held off his man and found Rosicky who turned his marker and split the defence for Chamakh. The Moroccan finished with an intelligent toe-poke.
After the third goal Arsenal did stop playing for a while and allowed Villa to push forward and gain some confidence. The defence was exposed as the midfielders and attacking players didn’t move well enough and that made it difficult for the backline to pass the ball forward. They were forced into hoofing it forward and it came back in no time. Villa were able to sustain a spell of possession and created some pressure.
It paid off when they scored the second. Clark was left unmarked in the box as Song and Koscielny were watching the ball. Fabianski and Clichy on the line couldn’t do much as the ball crept in off the underside of the bar.
Arsenal back five had to hold firm as the front six just couldn’t keep the ball for long. Credit to the defence for limiting the chances Villa could create.
Arshavin moved into a central position and Rosicky moved to the left to help Clichy who was being double-teamed time and again. Arsenal moved to a 4-4-1-1 kind of system in the final 15-20 minutes. It wasn’t enough but at least that’s a sign of some tactical change. I’d have preferred if we’d brought Djourou on for Arshavin after the third goal. Wilshere could have moved into an advanced role and Djourou could have played as a second DM. The Swiss defender would have provided us with some much needed physical and aerial presence.
In the final five minutes Arsenal brought on Denilson and Gibbs for Arshavin and Nasri. Rosicky moved to the right and Gibbs provided better support to Clichy. Wilshere got into an advanced position. This allowed him get in the box in injury time and get a well deserved goal, his first in the League for Arsenal.
Some of the long standing problems are still there and I don’t expect them to disappear overnight. Nonetheless, it was great to see Arshavin and Chamakh back to their best. I have no doubt the rest worked wonders for them. Now the team selection against Braga doesn’t look so bad, does it?
Fabianski: third game in a row, not much to do and couldn’t do much about the goals.
Sagna: excellent all over the right flank. Put in some good crosses.
Squillaci: untroubled in the first half. Could have done a bit better in the second. Dealt with Carew’s strength really well.
Koscielny: read the game really well. Looked solid while tackling. Could have done a little better for the second goal.
Clichy: superb. Took their winger out of the game for long periods. Was often under pressure when he was double-teamed in the second half, but dealt with it really well. Made some excellent interceptions.
On the whole, I don’t have many complaints against the defenders. They were exposed when the forward players reduced their off the ball movement.
Song: Played deeper and much closer to the defence and did a good job of moving the ball in the first half. Switched off a bit in the second and seemed unsure of his role.
Wilshere: Very similar to Song. Went missing for a while in the second half when Villa created some pressure but did well for large parts. Finished his chance with class. Looked threatening whenever he got into advanced areas.
Rosicky: top class performance in the central attacking role. A goal would have been good for him but his finishing let him down. Was involved with most attacks and created the third goal with a wonderful through-ball. Good defensive contribution in the final half hour.
The midfielders played a key part in Arsenal’s domination of the first half. I was a bit disappointed in the second half as the midfield didn’t do enough. Surely either Song or Wilshere should have been close enough to the defence to block the shot by Clark.
Nasri: excellent runs, good finish, decent defensive effort, good work rate.
Chamakh: close second in my MOTM list. Exceptional work rate, good goal, top class assist, looked fresh and hungry.
Arshavin: My MOTM. Was involved with almost everything going forward. Scored the all important first goal with an individual effort. Good defensive shift, good communication with teammates.
Subs: didn’t have much time on the pitch, but Gibbs and Denilson did their part.
The attackers were excellent for large parts. There was some hesitation in their off-the-ball movement in the second half and just like the midfielders they should have done better.
I don’t think it’s a problem with individuals but more a mental issue and Wenger will have to find the answer. Hopefully, the win will be good for the confidence.