It is not the easiest thing in the world to play a match after two consecutive home defeats that effectively took away every chance of getting a trophy, even when that opponent is Aston Villa, arguably one of the worst teams in Premiership. The former European champions needed to stay undefeated in order to avoid slipping into relegation zone.
Two consecutive defeats in three days shaded a fact that we have been undefeated in the Premiership in the last four games and that our victory over the Villains would mean we will end February with a 100% record in Premiership.
Arsene Wenger made a few changes as expected. One of them was forced – Carl Jenkinson was back into starting 11 due to injury of Bacary Sagna – and the other one expected – Nacho Monreal went back into the starting 11 in his left full-back position while captain Vermaelen was moved into the center of defense at expense of Laurent Koscielny, who was dropped on the bench. Abou Diaby returned in the middle to replace Aaron Ramsey while Olivier Giroud took Lukas Podolski’s place in starting 11 which caused Theo Walcott to move to the right wing.
It was a different game than a lot of previous ones as we started to play from the very first minute. Cazorla and Wilshere had the first attempts of the game before the Spaniard got himself on the score-sheet for the first time today. In the sixth minute of the game Wilshere passed the ball inside the box to Cazorla who tried with his left foot but it was deflected by Baker. The ball rebounded again to Cazorla who sent a low diagonal right-footed shot into the left side of Guzan’s net.
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Villa showed they are not going to just roll over when Agbonlahor tested Sczszesny soon after. Weimann caused some problems for Monreal before making a cross that Agbonlahor didn’t receive. Weimann made another run on the right side and cut back inside for N’Zogbia but Sczszesny made a good reaction save and Mertesacker cleared the ball. We responded via Walcott but the Englishman failed to find the net with a left-footed curling shot with the ball going wide. Giroud was next in line to miss after he and Cazorla played an excellent one-two, but the Frenchman’s shot from a tight angle was deflected by Guzan. Giroud tried again from even tighter angle with his weaker foot but his try to lob Guzan didn’t end with goal. We had a 1:0 lead at the interval, but it was obvious that one goal wouldn’t be enough to secure the victory as Villa were very dangerous.
Cieran Clark had first attempt in the second half, but it was mostly us that were attacking and looking like the side that would make things happen. Giroud, Wilshere and Cazorla were opening space in the opponents’ half, but none of the chances ended with goal. And, after one of our promising attacks, Villa equalized. The ball was cleared from the Villa box to the center of the pitch where Jenkinson headed it weakly. The ball fell to N’Zogbia and the Villains suddenly had three-on-three counter-attack. N’Zogbia passed the ball to Weimann who decided to take a shot himself. Sczszesny was on that ball but the shot was strong so it deflected off his palm into the net. It was a shocking goal, totally against run of the play. Wenger responded with Podolski instead of Jenkinson in order to get all three points. Giroud and Mertesacker were dangerous after the corner but Guzan tipped the ball just over the bar while the German sent the ball wide. Walcott’s cross wasn’t converted because Podolski wasn’t aggressive enough to attack the ball. The goal was there, it was only matter of time whether we will be able to score it or not.
And then, the game was resolved in the same way it started. Ramsey started an attack on the right and passed the ball to Wilshere. Our talisman clipped the ball in the space for Monreal who cut it back to on-going Cazorla. The Spanish midfielder took a left-footed shot to score his 11th goal in Premiership.
It wasn’t the best performance with some defensive issues against a brave Villa side, but at the end of the day three points are all that matters. It was positive response after the recent defeats and a light of hope ahead of matches against the Spuds and Everton, with the former being the most important match of the season. We completed our Premiership fixtures in February with three narrow victories and a 100% record. However, the seriousness of Diaby’s injury is still yet to be found out.
on the performance…
The result was vital today because it was absolutely important to win the game, we could not afford to drop points for two reasons. The first is that we are in a catch-up situation in the Premier League and [secondly] we have come out of two massive disappointments. But it was interesting as well to see that we were focused, united, a bit nervous and you could see we played a little bit with the handbrake in some situations because the second goal didn’t come. We were also strong because when Villa came back to 1-1 we found the resources to respond and win the game. The regret we have is that we could have scored many goals today and created an unbelievable number of chances and didn’t score. But I am proud of the attitude of the team because we went through some difficult days and responded in a united way.
on the race for the top four…
We cannot drop points, I have said that many times after the Chelsea game. That is what is in our minds, no matter where we go and who we play.
on the past week…
What is most difficult is not the critics, it is that we lost the last two games. I am not here to lose games, I want win. What hurts me the most is that we lost to Blackburn at home and Bayern at home. When people come to the Emirates, they are not to go away with wins. All the rest concerns me less. Of course [it has been difficult], but you do your job and focus on the next game and try to win it. That is what we did. I am not 30 years in this job at the top level and going to be destroyed by people saying I don’t know what I’m doing. I have been in this job a long time and what is important is that we have responsibilities and we have to stand up for them and get the team ready to go into the next game ready to fight.
on chasing Tottenham…
We are in a catch-up situation and we depend a little bit on the results of the other teams but vastly on our consistency. The key for us is to be consistent and that is why today a draw would have been a very, very bad result for us.
on Santi Cazorla…
Santi played very well and delivered in a game that was very important. He is a great player, which you have noticed since the start of the season. I am happy and grateful he delivered two important goals today.
on Cazorla’s goals…
I did not expect him to score so many goals, because there are still 11 games to go so he could get a few more. For me he is a complete player because he also has spirit. He continued to fight until the last minute even though he was a bit tired. He is a good example to follow because every day he is happy to come and play and practice. When he is on the pitch he gives you everything.
on Wilshere playing further forward…
It gives us a bit more security defensively [in the holding role] and I believe he can play a bit deeper. He has a little burst in the final third and still has the quality to play in there, but you want him to score goals and give assists. I think he can do it.
on Abou Diaby…
He told me he got kicked on the hip after he felt his calf. I don’t know how bad it is.
Jenkinson Mertesacker Vermaelen (c) Monreal
Wojciech Szczesny | 5.5: Made a poor attempt to save Weimann’s shot and that one could have cost us two points. Had a couple of good saves in the first half, though.
Carl Jenkinson | 7.5: Didn’t make his header powerful enough to clear the ball before Weimann scored an equalizer, but otherwise was really good, winning duels and never giving up on both sides of the pitch.
Per Mertesacker | 7.0: Made a few important clearances and blocks and almost found himself on the score-sheet.
Thomas Vermaelen | 7.0: Stopped Lowton who was cutting inside the box in the first half and looked solid. Good signs for the forthcoming matches against much more dangerous opponents like Spuds, Everton and Swansea.
Nacho Monreal | 7.0: Better in the second half than in the first one. Wasn’t aggressive enough to make a block when Weimann scored but the Spaniard did make a crucial pass for our victory. A few good crosses that weren’t rewarded with goals. Regarding his defensive game, Paul Lambert’s side usually attacked on our left side which left Monreal with problems in first half.
Mikel Arteta | 6.0: Villa had too much space in the middle and our midfielders should take their part of the blame for that.
Abou Diaby | 6.0: Weimann sold him a tunnel before Vermaelen stopped him. His desire to keep the ball for too long got him in trouble so he had to make a bookable offence. Picked up an injury which could mean he will be out for some time.
Jack Wilshere | 7.5: Was electric as usual and involved in both of our goals. Sent a beautiful ball to Monreal before our second goal.
Theo Walcott | 5.5: Very quiet and ineffective performance from Walcott. Had one cross in the last minutes and couple of attempts but neither of them resulted with a goal. He should improve his vision in situations when he is cutting inside since he has been rather selfish in those occasions so far.
Santi Cazorla | 8.5: Was creative and in the mood. Scored the pick of the goals in the process and reached double digits with 11 games to play. His three consecutive goals have earned us six points. His link-up with his former team-mate from Malaga was the key moment of the match.
Olivier Giroud | 6.0: He held up the ball well and found space for himself but was mostly unlucky during the match and out of pace in certain occasions. He is a good striker but – just like Walcott – he should improve his vision when he is inside the box. It’s not like he is the one that has to take a shot every time.
Aaron Ramsey | 6.5: Replaced Diaby. Passed the ball to Wilshere before our second goal.
Lukas Podolski | 5.5: Didn’t attack the ball when he had a chance to convert good cross from the right side.
Laurent Koscielny | N/A: Replaced Walcott in order to tighten up the defense in the last few minutes.
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