Villa 2-4 Arsenal: We were top of the league

At the end of the first half yesterday I tweeted that Arsene’s team talk should consist of just three words – “Remember last week”.

Almost straight away that was turned around by someone who suggested Gerard Houllier’s team talk should be exactly the same. Funny but there was no way it could happen again. No chance. I mean, we’ve learned the lesson. And to be fair we held out for exactly one minute longer in the second half against Villa than we did against Sp*rs.

Bale’s goal last week came in the 50th minute and we had the resolve and resilience to make Ciaran Clark wait until the 51st minute for his. I have to admit I had a slight touch of the deja-vu going on.

dé·jà vu

–noun

disagreeable familiarity or sameness – the sense that Arsenal are about the repeat the some horrendous mistakes as they did last week against the mouthbreathing scummers

It was all very familiar, wasn’t it? A first half we’d dominated and in which we should have scored more goals, against relatively poor opposition, and yet the game was very much in the balance. It had taken us a while to break Villa down. Friedel made good saves from Chamakh, we fired a couple just wide, didn’t necessarily make the most of other opportunities and then Villa’s centre-half kicked an invisible ball, let Arshavin have it out wide and the Russian drove forward, jinked inside and buried in the bottom corner.

His first goal in 11 league games and a timely one too. It was his corner that created the second, Nasri had been left free at the edge of the box and his first time volley was sweetly struck, flying past the keeper with a slight deflection.

So 2-0 and surely the dressing room would have been a place of concentration and focus. Urged, entreated, implored not to make the same mistake as last week. And yet … and yet. The goal itself should have been disallowed. John Carew was as offside as a bastard, clearly in the way of Fabianski who didn’t see Clark’s excellent shot until far too late. How any official can deem he wasn’t interfering with play is beyond me and it’s not the first time we’ve seen a decision like that in the Premier League recently.

The other thing about that goal was Gael Clichy. As the ball is headed out he sees the danger, moves towards Clark and then something switches off in his brain. It’s almost as if he’s been implanted with a device opposition managers can activate from the sideline. ‘Defensive Clichy off, hapless spacker Clichy on’. Regardless of the fact Carew was offside Clichy running away from the man taking the shot was just ridiculously bad defending. He copped an earful from Squillaci and rightly so. “Gael, vous çunt”.

What we needed was to see a response from Arsenal and we got it. Rosicky played in Chamakh who got there before Friedel to toe-poke home our third. That’s more like the Arsenal we know and pine for. A bit of balls, a bit of steel, a bit of oh cocking bollocks Villa have scored again. 3-2.

Now, I know many of you probably went through the mill, fearing the very worst. Not only were we going to blow a two goal lead again, we were going to do it twice in one game. I have to say I sat there watching in terrified resignation, awaiting the inevitable, knowing it would come when we had no chance to hit back, but Villa didn’t really threaten again. We had lots of the ball and at times I wondered to myself, in my most swearingy inner-voice, why Alex Song was bombing forward when really we should be maintaining some kind of defensive discipline but I have come to accept that what this Arsenal team knows about closing out games you could fit in the world’s smallest book (right behind “Things I do that aren’t cunty” by Jedward Sheringham).

Jack Wilshere scores against Villa

In injury time a bit of keep ball is required, we end up with four or five in Villa’s box, Denilson’s shot is blocked, Chamakh dinks a cross to the far post and Jack Wilshere is there to score his first league goal for the club with a diving header. 4-2. Game over, done and dusted. And with a whole 85 seconds to spare!

I’m not one of those people who will add too many caveats to a win, clearly what happened last week was fresh in the minds of the players but they showed good character to respond when they needed to. Villa weren’t great, lots of young players who look good but lack experience, and we made hard work of it really. Still, we went top of the league for a few hours – until Fat Sam bent his team over to have their salad tossed by Demento – and you can’t find too much fault with that.

You can read what Arsene said afterwards here. Some of it made my eyebrows twitch more than if my eyebrow was Carlo Ancelotti’s and it had been impregnated by Harry Redknapp.

There were some very good individual performances yesterday. Chamakh was fantastic up front, working so hard for the team, and the onlooking Bendtner needs to realise that’s what it takes to be considered an almost automatic choice for the team. That’s the standard. If you can’t, or won’t, do that then your future is bleak.

Arshavin looked much, much better than in recent games. I realise that’s not too difficult, considering, but he is an important player and we need to see more of this Arshavin than the other one. Nasri was excellent again, Rosicky’s industry in midfield was important too, as was his assist for Chamakh’s goal. I do fear he’ll never, ever score again though. And while I thought Djourou was unlucky to miss out I thought Koscielny had a good game at the back.

Overall, a slightly more scary and nail-biting game than we’d have liked but perhaps repeating the early second half error and responding in the way we did might just give them the belief they need to cope with those situations when they happen again. I mean, we all know they’re going to happen again, right?

Anyway, we’ve got the wheels back on and we’re chugging forwards again. There’s a Carling Cup quarter-final on Tuesday then Fulham at home in the league next weekend.

In other news this Sunday the Mail is reporting a £10m January bid for Bolton’s Gary Cahill. Bolton are in trouble financially and need to sell players to raise funds. Cahill looks a decent player to me but what it suggests about the injury to Thomas Vermaelen is a bit worrying, to be honest. Five centre-halves is too many to keep everyone happy. We shall see.

Also, don’t forget to check out the new Arsenal Video section of the blog.

And on that note I’ll bid you good day from snowy Dublin (a thaw is required urgently lest 5-a-side be cancelled later. A thaw or an orange ball and some snow boots). Till tomorrow.

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