Aston Villa v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: January 13, 2014 8.00 PM BST
A far tenser end to the game than it should have been, but three points and back to the top of the table nonetheless. At half time things looked extremely comfortable for Arsenal, having scored two goals in the space of a minute, and looking solid defensively. There was somehow a feeling that the game was not even nearly over though.
With recent injuries and illnesses, Arsenal’s lineup was fairly predictable. Giroud came straight back into the side after his recent illness, and due to Arteta’s calf strain Flamini slotted into midfield next to Wilshere. The only question mark was over Serge Gnabry, who had a phenomenal game against Spurs in the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger likes to introduce his young players gradually, but this time the German winger kept his place.
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The game started off as you would expect, Arsenal dominating possession and Villa sitting deep. The first chance of the game fell to the Gunners, Sagna’s cross finding the head of Olivier Giroud. The French striker really should have got it on target, but instead had his hands on his head as he watched it sail wide.
Villa were set up to play counter attacking football, Agbonlahor looking like the biggest threat. But their first real chance came from an Arsenal mistake. Wilshere miscontrolled a ball at the edge of the area, Benteke pouncing and squaring it to Delph. He had time and space to get the shot away, but his strike was tame and well wide of the mark.
There was a lengthy pause after Nathan Baker was struck in the face by a Gnabry shot, eventually being substituted for Leandro Bacuna. The centre back suffered very minor concussion, but apparently it’s nothing more serious. This meant a change around of Villa’s formation, which surely could only benefit Arsenal as Villa reorganized.
Benteke looked out of sorts, just like he had done all season. Agbonlahor was looking dangerous though. It looked like he had got the better of Koscielny off a long ball, but the French centre half managed to get a last ditch foot in to pinch the ball away from the pacey front man.
Arsenal finally converted their dominance into a lead just past the half hour mark, with a superb couple of minutes. Monreal got in behind Lowton to receive a Santi ball, and cut it back to Wilshere as he burst into the box. The English midfielder controlled the ball superbly, and stroked the ball into the bottom corner. 1-0 Arsenal.
Villa kicked off and almost immediately played themselves into trouble, passing around the back under pressure. Wilshere capitalized, dispossessing Delph and dinking a lovely ball over to Giroud. The French striker controlled it well, and lashed the ball between the legs of a defender and into the net. 2-0 Arsenal, two goals in one minute.
We seemed to switch off a bit in the closing minutes of the first half, our play rife with show boating and wasted opportunities. But we made it to half time without Villa putting up much of a fight.
Early in the second half Giroud netted his second of the evening, a curling effort into the top corner. The whistle had already gone for offside however, Wilshere correctly penalized for his part in the build up.
Arsenal then started to slow a bit, with little effort made to get that all important third goal, and our lacklustre second half threatened to punish us. Midway through the second half, Cazorla tried to dribble his way out of trouble in a dangerous area, giving the ball away needlessly. Lowton drilled the ball across goal, where Mertesacker had uncharacteristically gone to sleep, allowing Benteke time and space to head in at the far post. Typical that the big Belgian would end his goal drought against us. 2-1.
Rosicky was brought on, and he seemed the perfect player to inject some vibrancy and energy back into the team. He was soon sent straight back to the bench however, with what looked like a broke nose, after Agbonlahor floored him with an elbow. He was replaced by Chamberlain, making his first appearance after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The home side were enjoying a real spell of dominance now, Arsenal content to drop deeper and deeper, inviting pressure from long balls to Benteke. Szczesny suddenly found himself having to make a number of saves, and Mertesacker and Koscielny were kept extremely busy.
It was a tense ending to the game, non stop pressure from the home side, and no real outlet for the Gunners’ panicked clearances. But despite six minutes of extra time, Arsenal kept their 2-1 lead until the final whistle. Three points enough to put them back at the top of the table.
on an important win…
It was a big win for us, it was about two different halves. The first half was about playing our game with the speed of our passing and controlling the game. The second half was more about fighting, I felt it was down a little bit to first of all a different style from Villa who played three through the middle and a very direct game. Maybe we were a bit too cautious just to keep the 2-0. But it was about fighting and our defenders kept us in the game.
on a nervous finish…
Nervous finish yes, but overall you have to say that Villa did fight until the end and were committed for every single ball and you have to give them credit for that. That’s why the game was difficult in the end for us.
on whether the players became complacent…
I don’t know, was it too confident or too cautious? I think it was too cautious. Maybe we thought we’d keep control of the game and keep it at 2-0 but we lost a bit of incisiveness in our game and that desire to score more
on Rosicky and Monreal…
Rosicky has a bad nose, I don’t know is it broken or not, it looks bad.
on being disappointed with the elbow…
Honestly I didn’t see the elbow, I have to watch it again. He [Tomas Rosicky] told me that he got the elbow but he himself doesn’t know if he did it on purpose. He doesn’t know. I think Monreal is an accident but we have to check his metatarsal tomorrow morning because he got kicked on the top of the laces.
on whether Monreal’s metatarsal might be broken…
I don’t know.
on Jack Wilshere…
He has found his change of pace back, his game about that and his penetration because he’s not only a passer but he’s guy who is incisive with the ball. It’s his strengths so from that you need to be at the top of your game physically.
on Jack’s goal and assist…
You see it when you know well the players well in training. In the last games you see that he’s coming back to his best.
on winning after Chelsea and Man City both won…
We had to give a strong response because everybody looks at you and see if you drop points because they have made their points over the weekend so the only way you can deal with that is we were a bit more under pressure when you play last. You know that you’re not allowed to drop any points but you can only give one answer and that is to win the game.
on whether he enjoys those wins…
Yes, I like the fact that we are mentally ready for a fight.
on the difference in their position compared to this time last year…
That shows you that we have to be cautious because football can change quickly.
on whether he knows about Wilshere’s goal celebration…
No, I don’t speak that language.
He’s not injured, he was not in the squad. You know Oxlade-Chamberlain is back and I decided to put him back in the squad and that’s why he was not involved.
Here are some of the top tweets from today’s game:
“He’s a delightful footballer is @JackWilshere. Sublime finish followed by a terrific pass for Giroud.”
“That came off Santi like he was made of solid Nicklas.”
“Who is that person wearing number 19 and what has he done with Santi Cazorla?”
“Broken nose on Rosicky, looks like.”
“This panic feels familiar…”
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Sagna Mertesacker(c) Koscielny Monreal
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