If you carefully select portions of this game you can make a video highlighting many of Arsenal’s major problems. With another selection you could also show the reasons that make the Gunners such a great team to watch and support. It was a classic Cup tie and one that will remain in fans’ memories for years to come if it can spark a run of form.
The first half effort was disappointing, to put it mildly. Arsenal had a lot of possession but most of the passing was safe and slow as the ball was rotated in the area 15 yards either side of the centre line. Van Persie was isolated, the winger’s stayed wide and rarely received the ball in space, the midfielders were too cautious, as were the full-backs.
Vermaelen tested Given with a thunderous strike early on. Rosicky then did well to give Walcott a chance to run at goal. Theo did well to ride a challenge but then blazed over when a moment of composure was vital.
Just after the half-hour Villa took the lead from a soft, soft goal. The corner was taken short. Ramsey did well to charge out but had not support at all. He was easily bypassed as Villa played a one-two around him. Keane was able to loft the ball towards the back post where Dunne rose highest to head home. Arsenal’s defensive organization for the corner was poor. The man-marking in the box didn’t work either.
After the goal the Gunners raised the tempo to an extent. Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain had pops from distance that were spilled by Given. Ramsey forced a save from a tight angle. But the sucker punch came just before the half-time whistle.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deep cross was easily cleared.
Koscielny Vermaelen made the mistake of getting sucked deep into the Villa half. He had to chase back and was always a yard or two behind, first Keane then Bent. When Keane received the ball in acres of space around the centre-circle, he only had Bent upfront while Arsenal had Coquelin, Song, and AOC back defending. All three didn’t really know how to defend such a situation as Ireland was able to receive the ball in space before feeding the run of Bent. The striker’s initial shot was parried by Fabianski but he fired home from a narrow angle.
The second half was a completely different story. Arsenal raised the intensity significantly. The tackles were more purposeful. Midfielders made a number of forward runs. This offered Theo the chance to move around in dangerous areas.
The first of three goals in seven minutes came after Ramsey made a strong tackle just around the halfway line. Song powered forward and pierced the ball through a crowded space for Ramsey to run onto. The Welshman might not have done much with it as it was too close to the Keeper but Dunne lunged in and gifted a penalty. Terrible defending, clever from Ramsey, incisive from Song. Van Persie, of course, put it perfectly in the corner with Given diving the wrong way.
A couple of minutes later it was Theo’s turn to celebrate. Rosicky moved up the pitch and into a wide area. This allowed Walcott the chance to move inside. Little Mozart played a soft ball in behind. Theo skinned Warnock with pace and a couple of deft touches. He looked up, and not seeing any meaningful options he tried a cheeky poke past Given at the near post. It almost worked at the Keeper didn’t know what hit him. The ball only staying out after hitting the underside of his outstretched hand. It was still bouncing in a dangerous area a yard out of goal. Hutton tried a hasty clearance that bounced in off Walcott. In this case it must be said the winger made his own luck and deserved the goal.
The third goal again came from a tackle, this time by Oxlade-Chamberlain, again around the centre-circle. Koscielny received it and played a neat one-two with Song while bursting forward. The defender charged into the box only to be bundled over by a clumsy tackle from the retreating Darren Bent. RvP was coolness personified.
After the third goal Arsenal eased off. This led to some nervy moments, mostly from set-pieces but the Gunners did enough to keep the ball out. They also had some half chances at the other end but Given was able to keep the ball out of his net.
It was a rousing comeback but Wenger must find a way to keep his team from digging such holes for themselves in the first place.
Fabianski: Had a couple of shaky moments in the first half. Wasn’t at fault for the first goal. Made a good initial save but should have been quicker to react to the second strike. He’s made tough double saves in the past. I thought in this case he probably wasn’t expecting it to come back. Caught the ball well in the final 15-20 minutes.
Coquelin: Was enthusiastic but went to ground a bit too often for my liking. Conceded a free-kick or two and was caught out of position at times. Did well to push forward but wasn’t able to produce the cross at the end. Clearly not as effective as he is when playing in midfield but that should not be seen as a major negative.
Mertesacker: Keane got in behind him to win the corner for the first goal. He was probably marking Bent so can’t be faulted for the dismal way the corner was defended. Was in the box at the other end for the second so no blame there either. Did win some crucial headers. Also forced a goal-line clearance from a corner.
Koscielny: Was he marking Dunne for the first goal?
Got sucked too high up the pitch for the second goal. Had a fairly good defensive game otherwise. Also made a telling contribution for Arsenal’s winner.
Vermaelen: I wasn’t able to see who he was marking for the first goal.
No blame for the second. Got sucked too high up the pitch for the second goal. Kept the left pretty solid as Villa generated near to nothing from that side.
The back five were not very comfortable on set-pieces as Villa had some well-practised routines. Apart from that it was good work from the defenders. The counter-attack was a poor one to concede but that’s down to problems with decision making by a number of players.
Song: Played the passes that put Ramsey and Koscielny in positions where they could win the penalties, the first, a through-ball, was especially delectable. Also had a good game defensively, did a lot of chasing, was composed on the ball, was a tad slow with his passing in the first half. Could have done better to track Bent’s run for the second goal.
Ramsey: Had a dull first half with only one or two noteworthy moments. Got into dangerous positions in the second half. Won the penalty, could have done better with his shot on goal, linked play well. Work rate was good as ever.
Rosicky: Was probably the only bright spot in the first half. Most of his touches were classy. Played a number of quality passes. The only negative was that he was looking to pick Van Persie too often in the first half and didn’t bring the wide players into the game effectively. Also could have done better when he got into shooting positions more than once.
It’s hard to judge whether the midfield was under tactical instructions to keep it safe early on or it was just a sluggish effort. There was a lot more urgency in the second half, they got into forward areas and in between the lines more often, thus helping the forward players make a greater impact.
Walcott: Was trying hard in the first half but lacked composure at key moments. Had better support in the second half and was troubled Warnock on numerous occasions. Deserved his goal for the effort.
RvP: Was isolated and rather wasted in the first half. Took his penalties well but wasn’t that involved in the build-up to any of the goals, which is interesting and encouraging as that shows others can do it as well. Dropped deep and shared the load of the midfield on a number of occasions.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Made a number of good runs on the ball but wasn’t able to produce much when it got crowded around the box. Needs a lot of work on his decision making as he repeatedly conceded possession by running into defenders. Essentially, he still comes across as a very good individual talent – which in itself is commendable – but he needs to learn to use others to generate greater collective value. Anyway, this won’t happen overnight. It’s a process and time on the pitch will be an immense help.
The front three were in their own areas of the pitch for large parts of the first half but made purposeful contributions in the second.
Subs: It was good to see Henry, Sagna, and Arteta eased back into action. They didn’t have a major part to play in this game but the minutes will come in handy. Those who are harsh might say Henry lost the ball more than once to loose touches while Sagna miscued a clearance and sent the ball into a dangerous area of the Arsenal box. Both looked a bit rusty and off the pace.
Wenger: The chaos on set-pieces, the easily conceded counter-attacks, and lack of impetus in the first half make him an easy target for criticism. Deserves credit for inspiring the comeback and for not rushing any of the main returning players back into the starting line-up.
Update: Sorry, Koscielny was in the Villa box when the cross came in for the second goal. It was Vermaelen who went high up the pitch on the right before chasing back. Dodgy stream and and all that!