Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2: A Classic Game of Two Halves
Before yesterday’s game, the aura surrounding Arsenal Football Club in January was the kind that could make the likes of Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein and the Grim Reaper feel at home.
Despair, frustration, anger and many more downhill attributes were the orders of the day as disappointing results on the pitch coupled with the club’s lack of transfer activity didn’t put the Board, the manager and his team in many Gooners’ good books.
Despite declaring that he was going to focus on the Premier League, the manager featured a very “strong” lineup to take on Aston Villa in his team’s bid to book a place in the 5th Round. Wojciech Szczesny got a breather while the back line was boosted by the return of Francis Coquelin to the right back position. Tomas Rosicky was given another start while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain retained his place in the team.
Arsenal drew first blood through a tame effort from Aaron Ramsey that was easy pickings for Shay Given in goal. Thomas Vermaelen stung the experienced goalie’s hands from a sweetly drilled effort from a cushioned Robin van Persie pass. There was a nervy moment when Fabianski challenged Darren Bent for the ball but he missed both the ball and the forward.
Against the run of play, Aston Villa took the lead from a well executed training move that caught Arsenal on the back foot. After some intricate passing from a corner kick, Robbie Keane lobbed the ball into the 6-yard box and Richard Dunne rose the highest to head the ball home.
Rosicky had the chance to level the tie but his shot was a bit too cheeky for a keeper of Given’s caliber. Aston Villa compounded the home team’s misery late on when a swift counter attack saw Bent drill his shot past Fabianski on his second attempt after initially forcing a good save from the Pole.
From the title of this post, the first half clearly belonged to the Villans but Arsene Wenger probably gave his players the hairdryer treatment and urged to step up their game. Arsenal began the second half as the brighter side and Per Mertesacker was denied his first goal in Arsenal colors when Stephen Ireland blocked his effort off the line.
Ramsey missed another glorious chance to bring Arsenal back in the game and the miss sent Thierry Henry to the turf. You can’t doubt Henry’s love and passion for this game. His reaction after Mertesacker’s miss against Swansea was definitely one for the cameras.
However, Ramsey atoned for that miss when he has hacked down by Dunne in the box. Up stepped van the Man to send Given the wrong way. In a few minutes, Arsenal leveled the contest courtesy of a freak goal by Theo Walcott.
In the buildup, Arsenal’s Usain Bolt made a fool of a defender before closing in on the goalie then goal-mouth scramble saw the ball ricochet off the pacey winger to send the Emirates into raptures.
Arsenal’s 3rd goal and match clincher arrived when Laurent Koscielny made one of his slalom runs forward after a brilliant one-two with Alex Song. He was scythed down in the box by Darren Bent leaving the man with the whistle no choice. Van Persie stepped up again to smash in goal number 25 for the season.
The Gooners activated their party mode when Thierry Henry and Bacary Sagna entered the pitch in the dying moments. I also forgot to mention that Mikel Arteta played some part in today’s fixture after coming in for Rosicky.
Fabianski (6.5) raised my blood pressure with every back pass he received and didn’t really do enough to displace Szczesny as Arsenal’s Number One.
Coquelin (7.0) was really good with the ball at his feet and supported Theo Walcott well in attack.
Vermaelen (7.5) offered a lot in Arsenal and was adept in his defensive duties.
Koscielny (8.0) continued his inspired form and made the assist for the match winning goal.
Mertesacker (7.5) has clearly grown in confidence but his first Arsenal goal still eludes him.
Song (8.0) showed more attacking initiative than Ramsey and Rosicky despite being Arsenal’s holding midfielder.
Ramsey (6.5) dwelt on the ball far too long but did well to win a penalty for his team.
Rosicky (6.5) lacked sharpness in attack but he made a few good passes.
The Ox (7.5) was a terrorist down the left and was never afraid to take on his opposite number.
Walcott (7.0) scored his first goal at the Emirates since August. He also showed some good dribbling skills to get past his opponents.
Van Persie (8.0) kept a cool head to beat Shay Given twice from the penalty spot. This goal machine can’t stop scoring :(
Arteta (7.0) steadied the ship in midfield when he came on.
Henry and Sagna didn’t play long enough to get ratings.
If you think Walcott’s goal was freaky, here’s a freaky fact for you. Aston Villa’s goal scorers (Dunne and Bent) offered Arsenal chances to come back into the game as they were the culprits that caused the two penalties for the first and third goals.
After three disappointing defeats on the trot, the Gunners can look into Wednesday’s game against Bolton with a newly found confidence and optimism. The mere fact that the injured players are returning to full fitness is definitely a breath of fresh air.
As Arsene Wenger reiterated, it’s time to focus on the Premier League.
Notwithstanding, this was a classic game of two halves.
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